Song #23: Cinema Cinema – “50 Ft. Queenie”

September 14, 2020
Song #23: Cinema Cinema – “50 Ft. Queenie”

We’d heard about this band, Cinema Cinema. They were part of a local artist’s collective that included a number of bands we liked, and when I checked them out, they were pretty fierce. A two-piece band, they consisted of Ev Gold on guitar and vocals, and his cousin Paul Claro on drums. My impression of their music was that it was heavy, screamy punk with super-aggressive riffs and a deep ’80s hardcore influence. I also completely got their music wrong when I described it that way back in 2012.

Camelfest 2012 was a bit disappointing to me, because the year before we’d managed to pull together a three-show bill with 12 different bands, and raise more than $1000 for Roots and Wings of New Jersey. The following year, however, a couple of the bigger bands we’d asked to play strung us along until the last possible second, including one really well-known indie rock band from New Jersey that initially agreed to play, and then scheduled a show in Manhattan for the same month. They decided that they couldn’t commit to playing our show (after they’d basically already committed) until they sold out their show in Manhattan, because they didn’t want people coming to see them in Hoboken (where they wouldn’t get paid), and not going to the Manhattan show. Since they weren’t able to sell out their Manhattan show, they bailed on us, but never actually told us – we found out about it through Todd at Maxwell’s, who couldn’t rightly give us a whole weekend of shows when the headliners couldn’t commit. So we had to cram six bands into a Saturday bill.

Tell you what: I ask a lot of bands to do a lot of things. Contribute a track to a compilation. Play a benefit show. Be a guest on my radio show. Put out a 7″. Sometimes, bands really want to do it. Other times, they don’t want to do it at all. We’re too small. There’s not enough in it for them. They don’t feel like it. Whatever. That’s fine.

One year I asked Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo to play a Camelfest show. Do you think I am unaware of the demands on Yo La Tengo’s time, and the draw that they have? When Ira responded – almost immediately – with a very polite “You’re way too small for us,” he did it in a way that let me keep my dignity, that legitimized our effort, that acknowledged me as a peer, and that also offered a solution. They couldn’t play our tiny show, but they liked the organization for which we were trying to raise money. That year, when it came to their Hanukkah benefits in December, they devoted one day to the organization. At that show, they raised $6,000 – way more than we raised that same year. How cool was that?

When I ask a band to do a thing, and the band says “I’d love to but we can’t this year, please ask again next year,” or “Sounds great, but you’ll need to talk with our manager/booking agent/record label,” or “Oooh, I’ll ask the band at our next practice and get back to you soon” (and then never call), it is super frustrating. Once they say “maybe,” I am then in a holding pattern until I get a definitive “yes” or “no” from them. I can’t ask anyone else because I’ve already asked them. Even though I’ve heard this same bullshit two hundred times and I know you have no intention of doing the thing, I have more class than to ask someone else to do it, because if by chance you come back to me and say “Yes, we’ll do it,” I now have to put somebody in a bad position. So I literally start sending out emails six months in advance, because it takes that long to get a “no” from the first bunch of bands I ask.

Just fucking say no.

Anyway, we wound up squishing six bands onto one Saturday bill at Maxwell’s for the 2012 Camelfest – Stuyvesant and The 65’s, along with the Brooklyn indie rock band Gold Streets, longtime Hoboken indie rock band Bern & the Brights, Asbury Park power pop band and good pals The Brixton Riot, and Cinema Cinema. When I reached out to Cinema Cinema, despite the fact that they were a heavy touring band, had a great following, and I’d never met them, the answer was, immediately, “yes.”

So Ev and Paul show up at Maxwell’s that day, and nobody had any idea what to expect. Ev is a scary-looking dude, built like a football player with a heavy beard and a shaved head and really intense-looking eyes. It’s only when he starts talking that you realize what a lovable, friendly guy he is. And happy. Smiley, even. Animated. He’s like a cross between Henry Rollins and Tom Hanks.

When it’s time for Cinema Cinema to play, nobody in the room has any idea what to expect. Ev steps up to the microphone, leans in, and says something to the effect of “Hi, we’re Cinema Cinema. We’re so happy you came to see us play. I want to apologize in advance – we’re not the kind of band that talks much from the stage, we just like to get up and play, so I don’t want you to think we’re jerks or anything. So, we’re sorry.”

And then they started playing.

For 45 straight minutes of the most intense, ear-shredding, mind-blowing, enormous music. Light speed, non-stop, not taking even a second of a break between songs. Screaming, shredding, pounding, pulsating avant-punk, one of the most ferocious live sets I’ve ever seen. Basically one 45-minute blast of crazy avant-jazz-hardcore with beefy riffs and insane, locomotive drumming.

Cinema Cinema. This picture looks like what they sound like live.

People who had no business liking them – people from Roots and Wings, older people – were blown away. It was amazing.

After their set was over, I could barely speak. And when I went up to Ev to tell him what I thought of the set, he was the most gracious guy in the room. Soft-spoken and friendly.

Of course I immediately asked him – right there at the bar – if they’d want to contribute a track to the anniversary compilation we were doing. He immediately said “yes,” and a few weeks later, told me they’d settled on “50 Ft. Queenie,” the great PJ Harvey track from her album Rid of Me.

Before the band had it mastered, Ev reached out to me again, and said “Hey, we finished up ’50 Ft. Queenie,’ and we actually think it came out way better than we expected. We want to release it as a single. Would you be interested in releasing it as a standalone single on Dromedary?”

My answer was “yes” before I even heard it. I knew what it was going to sound like. But when he sent me the track, I still remember my response back to him. It was just two words:

“Holy shit.”

Cinema Cinema wound up catching some really important ears. Martin Bisi now records much of their music in his studio. Greg Ginn heard the band, and took them on tour, opening for Black Flag. They’ve done collaborative recordings with Ginn, and released an incredible improvisational album with Matt Darriau of The Klezmatics. They’re punk, jazz and metal, all rolled into one. They are fucking amazing. And the fact that they are so fucking nice makes it even better, because you actually root for these guys to blow your mind.

In 2013 we released “50-Ft. Queenie” as the a-side of our first vinyl 7″ since 1994, making white, pink, gray and purple copies. It didn’t make a dime. I don’t care (I don’t think the band does, either). It was a privilege to have become friends with them, and I’d work with them again in a heartbeat.

Here’s “50 Ft. Queenie” from the compilation From ’93 Til Infinity. Just like yesterday, buy it, the compilation, or any of its other tracks while I’m writing about them and we will donate to Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization working to boost voter turnout among unlikely voters who are traditionally underrepresented in the electorate. We’re also working on our own effort to contact some of these voters in the state of Ohio, in an effort to help turn that state blue in the upcoming election – we’ll tell you more about that soon.

~ by Al on September 14, 2020.

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