Ghost on the Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club, directors Andrew Powell and Kurt Voss’s 2006 documentary about the legendary Los Angeles-born punk blues singer has no footage of Gun Club actually playing music, in fact it has no actual Gun Club music in it whatsoever and precious little footage of its subject.
One can surmise that Pierce’s family decided not to participate with Powell and Voss’s movie bio and the filmmakers were left to put together this “feature-length” documentary with just talking head interviews with former Gun Club members Kid Congo Powers, Ward Dotson, Terry Graham, Jim Duckworth and Dee Pop along with Henry Rollins, Lemmy, John Doe and Pleasant Gehman. Because that’s all it is, basically. Under different circumstances, it would have no doubt been a better film.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I’ve watched this 75-minute old movie twice and if you are a fan of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club, this modest film is a must. Obviously there is a lot of “myth” that’s grown around the person of Jeffrey Lee, who died at the age of 37 from a brain haemorrhage in 1996 and although this is more of an “oral history” than a documentary per se, it gets to the heart of the truth about the real Jeffrey Lee Pierce, who by turns is described as brilliant, tortured, loveable but mostly just as a complete and utter asshole and colossal, detestable fuckup junkie and drunk.
Although little of what the viewer learns about the life and times of Jeffrey Lee Pierce in Ghost on the Highway is particularly, er, complimentary, it didn’t really change my feelings about the man one iota. Anyone who knows anything about him knows where the story arc trends after the commercial break in this low budget Behind the Music, so it comes as zero surprise how many people thought the guy was a punk. Clearly he was an asshole, but he was also a great artist who made transcendent music. I only ever saw him from standing in the audience, so he gets a pass from me.
Bonus: Here’s a full-length Mother Juno-era Gun Club set shot in Los Angeles by Louis Elovitz at the Variety Arts Center on April 8, 1988. The band was Jeffrey Lee Pierce on vocals and guitar, Kid Congo Powers on guitar, Romi Mori on bass and Nick Sanderson on drums. Long parts of this video are unfortunately jacked, starting about midway through, but as there’s precious little footage of this era, it’s worth watching the first part for sure.
Set list: Strange Fruit/ She’s Like Heroin To Me/ My Cousin Kim/ Thunderhead/ Like Calling Up Thunder/ Stranger In Our Town/ Lupita Screams/ Yellow Eyes/ Hearts/ Bad Indian/ Fire Spirit/ Fire Of Love/ Bill Bailey/ Ghost On The Highway/ Sleeping In Blood City / Goodbye Johnny /Crab Dance/ Moonlight Motel/ Sex Beat.