Filmmaker Allison Anders says her movie-and-music festival, Don’t Knock the Rock, is “totally music-nerdy!” She says this between bites of oatmeal at an Eastside coffeeshop. Her daughter Tiffany, sitting next to her, is eating a bowl of granola. This mom-daughter superduo started the festival in 2003 — Allison books the films; Tiffany books the bands — but they’re most excited about this year’s lineup. Overall, the event has a lovingly handmade quality that’s indelible. It’s also a family affair of a most extraordinary kind.
Filmwise, the ’06 fest seems particularly obsessed with obscure rockumentary. To illustrate her good taste in rock-docs, Anders says emphatically: “We wouldn’t show a film about the Police. We just wouldn’t do it. We’d show a film on Duran Duran! But not the Police.” She laughs at herself. (And I like this woman already.)
Anders’ killer musical instinct is one of the qualities that has always set her apart from other filmmakers and provided a consistent heartbeat to her output. She uses music from the inside out: as an emotional language between characters, and an expression of their souls (e.g., in Things Behind the Sun, a teenage boy and girl in the 1970s form a lifelong bond through ?the exchange of British Invasion mix ?tapes — epitomized by the Left Banke song “Walk Away Renee”).
Don’t Knock the Rock (named after the 1956 film) is a total labor of love. This year’s intriguing film lineup includes a doc on the ’60s garage band the Monks (American GIs who dressed as monks, right down to the funny hairdo), as well as docs on rock album covers, Texas icon Roky Ericson, the Danielson Famile and mucho more. But the musical lineup may be even more interesting: L.A. kid-rock heroes Redd Kross will reunite in the formation displayed on their ’87 Neurotica album (yay!), with openers Be Your Own Pet. Anders’ boyfriend, Terry Graham, a founding member of the Gun Club, will also reunite with his surviving bandmates for a set following the screening of a new Gun Club doc (by Anders’ longtime collaborator, Kurt Voss).
Then on Sunday, Allison’s cousin, Mark Fosson, will perform music from a long-lost album he recorded in the 1970s that is being released on the Drag City label this summer, thanks to Tiffany. It’s a pretty incredible story.
As a finger-picking guitarist herself, Tiffany was long fascinated by guitarist-scholar John Fahey, she says.
“I told my mom, and she said, ‘I think Mark played with him.’ I was like, what? I thought, no, John Fahey played by himself — she’s totally thinking of somebody else.” But mom was right: Mark had moved out to L.A. in the ’70s to be on Fahey’s label, Tacoma. The album he recorded — stunning, delicate compositions for 12-string acoustic guitar — was shelved after the label folded; Fosson never bothered to tell Tiffany about it.
“I begged him for the tapes,” she explains, “and he finally gave them to me” — after he spent four years finding and digitizing them. Tiffany shopped the tapes around and got the deal at Drag City. If it weren’t for Tiffany, says Allison, “he would have just let those tapes sit there forever. Frankly, I thought there’s no way in hell he’s ever going to find those — he’s moved around so much, and been with so many women that have thrown him out!”
Tiffany’s still amazed that her interest in complex folk guitar led her back to her own family tree. (Adds Allison: “It turned out my mother, Tiffany’s grandmother, had a date with Fahey too, to the Troubadour!”)
It just goes to show what can happen when you follow the muse. It’s as if Tiffany’s own secret musical history were calling to her: “Mark lived across the street from us when Tiffany was a baby,” Allison explains, “so when she was 2, 3 years old, he was recording this record. [But] he doesn’t even play this kind of music anymore — it’s so specific to a time period that ended. Punk rock came along and that was the end of that.”
Fosson went on to become a country singer-songwriter; he was fortunate to meet one of his idols, Nashville songwriting legend Harlan Howard, before Howard’s death, Allison says. Guess what? They’d find out later that Howard was a distant cousin as well.
The same day Fosson plays the fest, Tiffany’s group, Anders & Wood, will also perform. Allison’s pretty proud. “It’s such an amazing story. I’ll never get over it — right in my own gene pool!”
For full festival lineup, consult Film & Video Events (in the Film section) or www.dontknocktherock.com.