The Fleshtones Movie: Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Is Full

It’s too bad Leni Riefenstahl already used the title Triumph of The Will, which was about some rock festival in Nuremburg or something, because it’s the genuine subtext of Geoffary Barbier’s wonderful movie about the Fleshtones, Pardon Us For Living Because The Graveyard Is Full, available to watch in is entirety for free at the world’s coolest website, SnagFilms.com.

For what emerges from a story about the greatest working rock’n’roll band in the world, who have played in dives and palaces but most importantly, non-stop for nearly 35 years, is their indomitable spirit, their seemingly absurd persistence.  Pardon Us For Living takes the band from its origins in Queens to its outsider status at CBGB when the cool kids were getting record contracts thrust upon them even as they were blown away by the Fleshtones as their opening act, to The Party, as Barbier refers to it — the IRS Records years when Roman Gods came out and the Fleshtones, freed from their bad contract with Marty Thau’s Red Star Records, appeared finally to be on the verge of making it– to the end of that dream in the 1980s, and then the relentless, impressive, world historical campaign, similar in scope to Mao’s Long March but with fewer participants, to the Fleshtones becoming that working band that shows up in your town and, even as you call in chits to get skeptical friends to come see them, changes people’s lives as even the most straitlaced find themselves in a conga line marching out of a bar at 1:00 a.m. while the Fleshtones, still playing music, get into their van and drive off into the night, music still coming out of the amps they’ve left behind, and which they have to come back for.

I first saw the Fleshtones at Maxwells in Hobokon in June of 1979, and I’ve seen them maybe 30 times since.  That seems about right… an average of one time per year over the course of three decades, six presidents, at least three wars, children’s births, the rise and fall of the music industry, etc.  They are still going, and going strong.  I have never seen them put on a bad show, never left a club they’ve played in with anything less than a smile on my face and my head shaking, marveling at the manifest unfairness that (fill in the blank with this year’s darling) are selling out arenas and a band that spreads joy and sheer rock’n’roll genius are playing at (fill in the the blank with the shitty dive they’ve just played in.)

As this is written, The Fleshtones are going into the studio to record their 4,212th album.  Maybe this is the one that will finally do it… that will reveal to the world how dull The Arcade Fire really is, and why it should be the ‘Tones who get the Madison Square Garden homecoming.  Maybe.  It’s this kind of optimism that has kept the band going, though they are eminently realistic and down to earth people: it has to be something more, too.

Pardon Us For Living shows that The Fleshtones keep going because they are filled with joy when they play.  It is their higher calling to get rooms full of people dancing, sweating and laughing.  They are carriers of joy.  They have no self-pity, very little bitterness (except at the idea that history has not fully recorded their place in it), no rancor.  “It takes a big heart/big enough to hold us together,” the Fleshtones once sang, and it’s clear that even as few bands have ever been as exciting live, no band — not one — can compete with the Fleshtones when it comes to heart.

The Fleshtones have now been the subject of a fantastic book — SWEAT: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band, by Joe Bonomo — and a first-rate rockumentary.  Justice will only be served when the Fleshtones are voted into The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Start your petition now.  Those of you on Facebook, get cracking.  In the meantime, watch this movie, for free, on SnagFilms.  And go see the ‘Tones when they next set up shop in your town and turn it into Hitsburg USA.

2 Responses to “The Fleshtones Movie: Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Is Full”

  1. landboard…

    […]The Fleshtones Movie: Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Is Full « Tulip Frenzy[…]…

  2. […] the excellent history of “America’s Garage Band,”and don’t forget to watch Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Is Full, the excellent documentary about the most fun, hardest working combo in […]

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