There have been some really spectacular Rock & Roll documentaries lately (Dig!, End of the Century, Some Kind of Monster). You can throw Bradley Beesley's just-released Flaming Lips bio, The Fearless Freaks, into that lineage immediately. Beesley uses his friendship and artistic relationship with the Oklahoma-spawned Avant Pop troupe to gain lover-close access to create a revealing biography that's riveting, even if you're not familiar with the Lips' evolving musical brilliance and resilience. The band's various disparate incarnations -- from loud Punk/Psychedelia misfits to their current Orchestral Pop superstar phase -- get a good overview in the flick, as does the barrage of outside projects, from the B-movie, Christmas on Mars (Freaks offers a first look at that long-gestating endeavor) to the four-CD Zaireeka set. If congenial leader Wayne Coyne is the movie's lovable hero, Lips' multi-instrumentalist/secret weapon Stephen Drozd is the tragic figure, as the film catches him smack-dab in the middle of an escalating drug problem. The movie features several surprising moments, giving even the most compulsive Lips fans a fresh look at one of the strangest major-label bands in popular music history.
Bluegrass great Jimmy Martin died on May 14 from complications from bladder cancer. His big break was in 1949, when he was asked to be the guitarist and lead singer for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. In the '50s, Martin founded the Sunny Mountain Boys, which featured future bandleaders J.D. Crowe and Doyle Lawson. In 2003, his career and legacy got a boost with the release of the film, King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin. ... David Wayne, the original lead singer for Heavy Metal heroes Metal Church, died on May 10. The 47-year-old Wayne, who left the band after their first couple of albums in the '80s, reportedly died as a result of head injuries suffered in a car crash a few months back.
It's not often worth taking the risk of hearing a really bad Jay Leno joke, but those who stumbled onto the last five minutes of the Tonight Show on May 3 got to see one of the more unusual late-night talk show performances since Jerry Lawler creamed Andy Kaufman on Letterman's show back in the day. Decked in a spangled outfit befitting Cowboy Curtis, Bright Eyes honcho Conor Oberst unleashed a snarling, vitriolic rendition of his song, "When the President Talks to God." The bold, naked protest against theocracy seemed to spur the studio audience into a weird state of confusion and (from the Eyes' fans) exhilaration. The track -- unavailable on any Bright Eyes album -- is obtainable for no cost at Apple's iTunes store.
Gassed About Hank
A meager gas station in West Virginia is being turned into a museum dedicated to Hank Williams Sr. The legendary Country singer died from a drug and alcohol overdose in 1953 on route to a gig in Canton, Ohio, in the back seat of a Cadillac. Since he was found dead during a pit stop in Oak Hill, W.V., the town decided the gas station at which he was discovered was as good a place as any to turn into a Williams shrine. Williams recorded several songs in Cincinnati at 811 Race St., which, today, happens to house the offices of some newspaper called Cincinnati CityBeat. In honor of Williams, we promise to not turn it into a gas station any time soon.