Krist Novoselic’s band after Nirvana, Sweet 75, opened for L7 on their tour for The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum. Novoselic cast L7 as the stars of his surrealistic Super 8 tour movie, L7: The Beauty Process, and released it as a now-scarce home video. It’s good fun.
Because it captured the specific emptiness of its time and place, I think of Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, a movie I last saw in 1997, as a cousin to L7: The Beauty Process. In one scene in the L7 movie, a guy from market research subjects the members of the group to the year’s hot new sounds. It’s a tour of everything awful: confessional singer-songwriters, third-wave ska, and “Nirvana-lite angst crybaby middle-class-white-boy grunge.” Then a record industry sleaze takes the band to lunch and offers them anything on the kids’ menu. Straightforward and entertaining enough, but the scene where the devil himself officiates a graduation ceremony for the four women of L7 is the one you take home. (They are graduating from having souls, I think?) And the live footage is, of course, a blast.
The bullshit copy on the sleeve is a good indication of the picture’s tone:
The Beauty Process is a bonafide Rock ‘n’ Roll film. The sensational rock group, L7, take us on a musical flight into the stratosphere only coming down to burrow deep into the sub terrain of music commerce. Bitter and irresponsible, it is a cautionary tale to those who aspire merging art with commerce. Ultimately, The Beauty Process is a moving inspiration demonstrating personal triumph and liberation in the face of adversity. Including the songs; Fast & Frightening, Drama, Shitlist, Andres & more!!!!
Decoupage! was a fever dream of a public access show cooked up in 1989 by visionary amateur producer Kathe Duba and drag queen Summer Caprice (Craig Roose, if you want to get technical). Envisioning a kitschy 70’s variety show aesthetic, Craig and Kathe scoured thrift stores to furnish elaborate sets—an episode could take as many as twelve hours to set-up, videotape and break-down (those are Cecil B. DeMille terms for public access). The show attracted counterculture legends like “all-American Jewish lesbian folksinger” Phranc and Vaginal Creme Davis (appearing with her “mother,” Susan Tyrrell). Caprice exuded a fun atmosphere of irreverent, arty, DIY weirdness, and the guests really seemed to enjoy themselves.
I’d argue the “jewel” of the Decoupage series was actually Decoupage 2000: Return of the Goddess—a 1999 retro-futurist sci-fi version of the original show coordinated after a five-year hiatus. Check out cult queen Karen Black singing Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang,” with grunge goddesses L7 for her band! If you didn’t know, Karen Black has a fucking amazing voice, and her chemistry with L7 is golden.
The most compelling segment though, is Exene Cervenka (using her actual surname, “Cervenkova” here) performing a spoken-word piece, “They Must Be Angels.” Themes of alien visitation and abduction, psychic abilities and metaphysical spirituality make the monologue a perfect fit for Decoupage‘s retro-futurism, but as Exene expounds, her tangents become more conspiratorial, and you’re left wondering if work like this was the germ of her eventual Alex Jones-levels of delusion. You can never be sure how someone got from Point A to Point Raving, Vicious Crackpot, but man does this piece feel like a red flag; and still, Exene is magnetic, and the performance is mesmerizing.
I’m unsure of exactly how many episodes of Decoupage! were made in total, but there is a Decoupage! YouTube channel with some great clips.
LjerkDiamondHeart has done a pretty fine job of sourcing various videos to cobble together the entire L7 performance at Rio de Janeiro (Hollywood Rock Festival) which took place in January 1993. Despite quality that ranges from good to just okay, this is a thrilling bit of music history.
00:00 - Deathwish
03:16 - (Right On)
06:12 - Scrap
09:00 - *Samba Song with Enter Sandman riff
11:00 - Slide
14:26 - Diet Pill
18:36 - Just Like Me
21:28 - *More spotlights
22:27 - Monster
25:43 - Broomstick
29:19 - Mr. Integrity
33:33 - Pussy
34:10 - Shitlist
36:58 - American Society
41:30 - Freak Magnet
44:58 - *Saltos with Smells Like Teen Spirit riff (guitar problems)
46:09 - Shove
49:48 - Pretend We’re Dead
54:04 - *Riff
54:51 - Fast and Frightening [two video sources]
57:42 - *Encore break
59:48 - Wargasm
63:48 - Everglade
66:38 - Till the Wheels Fall Off
Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plaka kick ass!
One of the best bands of the whole “grunge” era, here’s L7 rocking the fuck out of Letterman (and his band) in 1992 with their stone cold classic “Pretend We’re Dead”. For no other reason than it’s very cool and they look like they’re having a blast:
More Nineties nostalgia to round out the weekend. Growing up as a kid in that decade I was subjected to huge ignominies in the name of yoof TV. “Yoof TV” was the British expression for television programs made by people in their thirties and forties for people in their teens and early twenties, trying hard to represent the energy and anarchy that being young supposedly represented. YEAH! Like down wiv ver kids anthat?! Yoof!! Energy!!! Rissspekt!!!! YOU KNOWORIMEAN?! It was baaad (meaning just bad). MTV built an entire channel around it, but the biggest, smelliest turd lurking at the bottom of the yoof barrel was undoubtedly The Word.
The Word was Channel 4’s first stab at a concept called “post-pub” television, and as the name would suggest it had a rowdy, boozy, “anything goes!” atmosphere, though I think the show’s primary audience were still too young to go to the pub. Launched in 1990, it was presented by the annoying Manc Terry Christian with a rotating cast of inept co-hosts, most famous of which was probably the ex-model/whatever Amanda De Cadanet. She lives in LA now, and you can have her. Fans of River Phoenix, watch this clip and prepare to have all your romantic illusions about the best and/or best looking actor of his generation (and his crappy band Aleka’s Attic) shattered.
There were moments of genuine unscripted tension too. The best of the co-hosts, Mark Lamarr (currently a dj for BBC Radio 6) famously took issue with Shabba Ranks over his homophobia. Oliver Reed was secretly filmed getting drunk in the dressing room (a very classy move by the producers). The British riot grrrl group Huggy Bear and their fans were forcibly removed from the studio for protesting over a segment about a couple of porn star twins, and funniest of all was an altercation between Snoop Dogg (then just emerging with Doggy Style) and the British kids TV host Rod Hull’s puppet Emu, which had a reputation for violently attacking guests.
The show provided a glimpse of the future of television – some would argue a horrifying one. No longer could celebrities be treated with total reverence, as on The Des O’Connor Show or Wogan. Five-minute videotaped pieces tackled subjects that would these days be given whole series on ITV – dog plastic surgery, fat farms, child beauty pageants.
Yet, while Parsons only mentions it in passing at the start of the piece, 20 years later The Word does have one lasting positive legacy - the live music. Sure, they went for what was then currently popular, but this ensured a diverse range of bands and lead to the television debuts of both Nirvana and Oasis (Nirvana’s spot including the infamous moment when Kurt declared that Courntey Love was “the best fuck in the world”). The tone may have been jarring (see the fluffy bra podium dancers gyrating to Stereolab’s kraut-punk!) but the energy was real. This was one of the very few places on TV you could see bands whose shows you had only read about, and if you were lucky they gave good show too - like L7’s Donita Sparks dropping her pants. Charlie Parsons, speaking as someone who WAS a lonely teenager in a bedroom at the time, THIS is why we watched your towering pile of faeces of a show. Not for “The Hopefuls”, not for the interviews, the wackiness, the innuendo, the edginess, the supposed rule breaking, the sticking-it-to-the-man-down-wiv-yoof-culcha-yah - we watched your show for THIS:
L7 - “Pretend We’re Dead” live on The Word
After the jump: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hole, Stereolab, Blur, Daisy Chainsaw, Pop Will Eat Itself with Fun-Da-Mental & Huggy Bear