Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Surf's Up, Gang!

Here is the principal cast for "Surf's Up, Gang!" from left to right: Duwan Dunn, Steve Pick, Beatle Bob, Tony Renner, some unknown guy in a referee shirt, Rene Spencer and myself. Standing behind us is Ed Mantels-Seeker and John the Mailman.

Even a talentless dilettante such as myself has one song that stands above the rest, partly due to the reaction it gets, and partly because, as a result of this reaction, of the amount of time I've spent promoting it over the years. Unfortunately, for me that song is "Surf's Up, Gang!"

The song started around the same time I started to get tired of Jambox, my first band. It was conceived as a movie idea for Jambox, and together with David Udell, I started a seven page script for it that I lost a long time ago. I remember practicing it with Jambox and being unhappy with the Jambox sloppy drunken careening out-of-control style. Not even the fresh young loveliness of the Changels could redeem it.

It was one of the songs that the members of the Obvious liked from the start, though. So the lineup that perfected the song was Kevin Bruseke, who sculpted the mammoth classic surf beat that defines the song now, Alex Mutrux, who added some brilliant guitar harmonies and one of the defining riffs of the instrumental section of the song and myself.

After Alex and Kevin and I decided to kick Chuck out of the band for never showing up to practice, we started to save our gig money up to go into a studio in Illinois to record this and two other of our most popular songs. The recording session, which was one day of recording, dubbing and mixing, went really well. I met up with my childhood friend Ed Mantels-Seeker, who was taking a film class with Roy Zurick, and together we resurrected the idea of making a movie with the music as the soundtrack, since sync sound was well out of our budget, which was basically nothing. Ed provided all the 8mm film stock we needed and intended to edit it also.

Now I just needed a bunch of people to come down to the Mississippi River to shoot it. I was working at the RFT at the time and had access to typesetting machines, so I whipped up a flyer:

A flyer to recruit the fun one hundred for the movie shoot. I handed this out everywhere I went for a week or two prior to the first shoot.

Gabe Katz volunteered to shoot also, though I don't know how much of his footage made it into the movie, since I was insensitive to Ed's vision of doing his own movie. We had a pretty small crowd the first couple of times we shot, so I did yet another flyer:

Judging from the breathless copy on this flyer, which was also an ad in Reverb (a local new wave publication produced by the incomparable Donna Knott) the bulk of the filming was probably done September 20th, 1981.

As one can easily see if you click on the image for a full-sized version, I wasn't shy about self promotion back then. In the innocence of youth I considered myself the director, though Ed did the editing all by himself, with a tiny viewer and hundreds of pieces of editing tape. Below you should see the link to the movie itself, a director's cut version I made from an old VHS copy I found among Paul Stark's box of new wave videos of the early 1980s.

This movie retains the ability to surprise and delight even after more than 25 long years have aged it, and the central conceit of a beach party on the Saint Louis river front remains as wonderfully stupid and ill-advised as it ever was. So my pride in the achievement, though somewhat diminished by the failure of the Obvious to rise to the occasion by actually touring and raising ourselves to some kind of cult prominence, is still vaguely flickering somewhere in the bottomless depths of my natural tendency to self-loathing and bitter regrets.

Here are the credits to the movie, with a soundtrack of the Obvious song "Dot-Pop!":

Download "Surf's Up, Gang!"


Doggie said...

I don't know if you remember- You, George, probably Gus and me fleshed out a script for a film called Surf's Up at a diner called Mr. Mac's. It was at the corner of Oregon and Arsenal. It was at some time in the 70s.

Tony Patti said...

Yeah, that became the lost script I wrote about. I had that damned thing for years and years, but I haven't run across it since I've been back from Italy, and I've filed and refiled my writings since then without seeing it.

At least I still have 95% of the manuscript for the Protoplasm Trip that your mom typed for me. I haven't had the handwritten MS for that in many years.