Sunday, April 21, 2013

Another Word for Backup -- Day 2/106

Walk: Sundance Kabuki (Twenty Feet From Stardom)
Distance: 2 miles

Today's Film Club was a real treat.  The film was Twenty Feet From Stardom, a documentary on the backup singers behind many of the greatest musical legends of the 70's and beyond.  Legends such as: The Rolling Stones, Sting, Luther Vandross, Elvis, Ike and Tina, Joe Cocker, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder.  Really, pick any any oldie you love to sing along with, and you'll find the parts you love most and sing, sing, sing are sung (Wonderfully!) by the back up singers.  Sometimes you know their group names: The Ronettes, the Rayettes, The Shirelles, The Chiffons.  And very, very rarely you actually know a backup singer's individual name - perhaps the most famous of which is Darlene Love of He's a Rebel fame.  She has also been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sings Christmas annually on David Letterman.  Other individual names - and voices that can sing circles around even the best performers are: Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Gloria Jones and Dr. Mable John.

Needless to say the original footage in the movie is marvelous.  Mick, Michael, Bruce, all the above voices are the quintessence of uplifting energy.  And the backup singers' stories - almost all beginning in churches - are very well told.  It is an adult accounting talking about the usual monetary hurtles (to say the least) but then also giving an in depth view of the long (virtually impossible) psychological, physical, multi-talent journey to being out front and a solo artist.  Imparted also is an understanding of the challenges of maintaining integrity and blending in when a big part of you wants to be in front. Many backup singers describe this in a spiritual sense - the freedom to join your voice to the multitude and find with others 'the absolute truth.'  It is a long walk to this spiritual place.  Finally there is the deep, professional recognition by the likes of Springsteen that the music world is not a level playing field - people who can't sing at all become stars and people with the voices of angels die in obscurity.  A huge mix comes into play: luck, stamina, health, psychology, guts, ruthlessness at times - with talent being just a small part.  Sound familiar?  We're talking life, period, Life.

At the end of the movie they had a special guest speaker.  Her name is Melanie Demore, who is a singer, songwriter, teacher and refers to herself as a 'vocal activist.'  At one point she said "I wish there was another term other than 'backup singers' - another word.  And after seeing the movie - which will be out this summer - I totally agree.
All the backup singers on these are old timers and most are in Twenty Feet From Stardom

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