So you wanta be a rock & roll star, or an actor in your own movie? Best thing to do is gather some like-minded ne’er-do-wells, head to The Bronx, and 25 years later the rest will be history!
That was my immediate reaction after watching an “almost-final cut” of Fanatic Heart, a movie by Vic Zimet and Stephanie Silber, devoted to the music and general shenanigans of yours truly and Black 47.
19 years ago without a whit of thought, I gave permission to Vic and Stef to become flies on the wall in the rambunctious life and times of “the house band of New York City.”
They produced a number of official Black 47 DVDs but all the time they were quietly filming hours of material about a band that had no shortage of drama, success and debacle.
It’s a brutally honest depiction. Laid bare are the excitement, tedium, musicianship, boozing, triumphs, disasters, drive, and devotion of a band that rarely rehearsed but delivered on stage.
The camera is unsparing as it chronicles a riotous and righteous journey that began in the bars of The Bronx’s Bainbridge Avenue and ended in BB King’s on Manhattan’s Forty-Deuce. There’s no make-up artist present, no remedial paint or powder, just the rawness of passing time taking its toll. And yet the same fist-in-the-air defiance is as evident at the end as the beginning.
None of it was faked. We were a New York Irish band with attitude. Right from the start if asked to play a U2 song, my standard response was, “next time you hear Bono sing a Black 47 song we’ll cover one of theirs.”
Fanatic Heart pulses with the joy of musicians thrilled to be adding to the creative mosaic of the city of Lou Reed and Walt Whitman; and that thrill was curried by the delight of a loyal audience that would have followed us to hell – some unfortunately did!
But it’s the sweat-stained exultant faces of the fans that move me most. Some are still friends, others have sadly departed; at the screening people broke into spontaneous applause as Phyllis Kronhaus RIP, our first merch seller, expounded on our perennially strong Jewish following in her inimitable New Yawk accent.
I mentally trembled as the first shots of our riotous 2003 Irish Tour streaked across the screen. Ah well, what’s a little nudity among friends; this is a movie about a rock & roll band, not The Legion of Mary!
But then there’s footage inside Kilmainham Jail and West Belfast, and compelling performances of signature songs like James Connolly, Bobby Sands MP, and The Big Fellah, and you get an inkling of what made Black 47 tick – the core principles of civil rights and human dignity fueled by an unflinching desire to do things our way.
Many of our supporters would have been happy if we’d dealt only with Irish politics. But perhaps our finest hour was outright rejection of the Iraq War while at the same time supporting those who fought it on our behalf. This stand cost us dearly but was there any other choice for a political band?
In fact Fanatic Heart makes clear why we never achieved the super-stardom so often predicted for us in our early years. We just weren’t cut out to be “the next U2” - too ornery, too pointedly political, too focused on the new song to be bothered polishing old favorites – we never repeated a set in almost 2500 gigs. Nor did we spend the requisite time kissing the correct posteriors. But what a blast we had!
How interesting too to watch our beloved New York City transform over the 25 years from $2 a pint Recession Wednesdays in Paddy Reilly’s - where Joe Strummer, Neil Young & Brooke Shields rubbed shoulders with cops, firemen, nurses and nannies - to the current Disneyfied hollowness of Times Square.
The movie is completed but Vic and Stef must now raise a modest sum to fund post-production. There are many inexpensive ways of getting involved through Indiegogo. Visit http://tinyurl.com/FUND-B47 for information and to see out-takes and scenes from Fanatic Heart.
You never know, it might inspire you to form a band, head to The Bronx and begin your own rock & roll journey.