I don’t know if this is the type of person that we all know or have met before, but I have a feeling it is. I think we can all relate to the universal truth of coming across a person who cares about one thing above all others, and that is the attainment of worldwide fame and adulation, with all the perks and fortune that comes with such popularity. In other words, we all know someone who just wants to be a rock star. The music is secondary. It’s all about the fame.
That’s “The Front Man,” a documentary, getting it’s East Coast premiere, about the lead singer of a New Jersey band called Loaded Poets, a band that has stuck together for decades, playing local establishments and recording material and plugging away at it since 1980, which is a damned long time for a band to be spinning their wheels in the mud (professionally speaking, anyway). And according the to the press notes for this documentary, “The Front Man” covers 27 years in the life of lead singer Jim Wood, and while part of the fun of this movie for me was the realization that it was covering a very large expanse of time in this person’s like, I have to say that it did not seem like we were documenting 27 years worth of this guy’s life. Maybe 27 years when you throw in some old home videos, but this definitely seemed like it documents at least 12 to 15 years of Jim Wood’s existence as a musician and as a average joe who wishes so badly to no longer be average.
And for Jim Wood, it is 100% all about the fame. He often complains, not in a whiny way but in a way to motivate himself I guess, that he is just “dipping his toe in the pool of fame” and he is not actually going in and getting wet in that pool, and he wants to cannonball right into the middle of that thing. And even when talks to people that have themselves experienced some measure of fame and success that he envisions for himself and they tell him that the pool is very shallow, only about two feet deep, with a very hard cement floor just beneath the surface, it is obvious that Jim Wood still wanted to dive head first into that water.
Right off the bat, I can tell you for sure that I knew someone like that, someone whose name will be forever changed to protect the innocent, we’ll just call him Carl Crimson, a person who played guitar and wrote music and on the outside seemed to care about his art and what he was saying with his art. But after getting to know Carl Crimson, it became apparent that his art was not about what it was about. His art was a conduit for him to potentially become world famous. He cares not for his integrity. He had none. He was ready to sell out. He was ready to accept everyone’s love and adulation, with arms wide open, and Carl Crimson never came close to this, it ate him up himself, drove him mad, sent him out to the streets, living behind garbage cans, stealing Playstations to pawn them for drug money, trying to drown his sorrows, forever wondering why he never got famous, wondering why he wasn’t popular like he felt he should have been.
I feel like Jim Wood is easily of this vein, though he does not have a descent like that of old Crimson; his lack of fame and ultimate success is what drives him to keep making music in his spare time, to keep booking gigs at dive bars, to keep plugging away at his dream, and fortunately for him he has a wife that supports him (one who feel in love with him because he was a performer on stage, and really isn’t that the biggest reason why dudes get on the stage anyway, to get laid?) and band mates that stick it out with him, and as a result, Loaded Poets becomes a multi-decade odyssey, a musical institution in Central New Jersey.
And then like many documentaries, “The Front Man” starts to evolve and it turns into something else. Early in the movie, the idea of children is introduced, and Jim Wood sits with his wife and they come up with a good honest list of reasons as to why they should not have any kids. And then a little more than halfway through the movie, they finish up their list of reasons as to why they should have kids, and wouldn’t you know it, before long the guy who didn’t want children and who wanted to just be worldwide famous suddenly has a kid on the way.
As the kid is birthed and the family grows, Jim Wood’s mentality and priorities change as expected, and he becomes happy with being the front man of his own life, leading the charge of his own family, raising his kid with his wife in a good neighborhood with good schools and shit like that. He probably attends PTA meetings now. So much for being a rock star. At least in the literal sense. Of course the idea of this movie at the end of the day is that we can all be rock stars in our own lives, and we don’t have to be loved by millions and millions for our art when we can be loved by a certain special few for who we are and what we do.
On top of the concept of this documentary covering a large expanse of this person’s life, thus giving us a satisfying and complete story, it helps that Jim Wood is indeed a funny person and actually does make for a fairly interesting person to follow around and watch him grow as a person and human being. And because of this, his charisma and charm, his easy going nature (which actually all probably plays into his desire to want to be liked by everyone but anyway), I think I can see why no one would want to come forward and tell him the real reason why his band never got popular.
Because you see, there is a scene in the movie where Jim, along with a couple other band mates, do discuss why they feel they haven’t gotten any bigger or more popular as a band over all the years, and they determine that it is because they really didn’t tour and they never got a record contract and they were not even interested in marketing themselves because they were too busy making the music, these are the reasons why Loaded Poets never got more popular. And sorry to be the one to tell you, Jim Wood, because you seem like a nice guy with a nice family and great friends, and it is because of this support structure around you that I feel like I can tell you this, but quite frankly Jim Wood, your band stinks.
For real. Just flat out not good. Sure, talented musicians, a bunch of guys who can play their instruments well, yeah, Loaded Poets has that, but good songs? A compelling stage show? No. Just. No. The music is bad. And this movie has a lot of it. And none of it made me think, “Yeah, Jim is right, why isn’t this band more popular?” Nope. As a matter of fact, the footage of the live shows and the clips of songs played throughout the movie, it all just reinforced why the band is as popular as it is now, which is to say, this is a bar band, no more than that, and really these guys should just be happy to have been doing this already at the level they have been doing it for all of these years. It is actually quite a feat, considering how the music is just not good. There is even one song that Jim Wood points out as being a party song that college crowds should enjoy, and at that moment it becomes READILY apparent that Jim Wood has NO IDEA what college kids are listening to.
There is an interesting little side story in “The Front Man,” in which Jim Wood reveals how he and his band mate buddies discovered a low budget sci-fi schlock fest on television one night and they fell in love with the badness of it all and became obsessed with not only the movie but the hacky, low-budget filmmaker behind the movie. Jump to all these years later, this director is making a movie about vampires, and Jim Wood auditions because this guy is his hero and idol, and the irony of this is just too much, because Jim Wood idolizes the guy for busting his add to make a bunch of feature length movies on his own, and who cares if the movies stink, because the guy is doing what he wants to do, and that encourages Jim Wood. The problem is that Jim Wood doesn’t seem to acknowledge how these movies can’t possibly be making any money, and this guy does not make his living this way, and essentially it’s all junk art anyway, and the parallels between these low budget monster movies and his own band are just too rich.
So the band stinks. But the movie? Good. Definitely good. One worth watching if you ever get the chance, which is always a tricky proposition when it comes to these film festival documentaries. But this one is compelling enough to make the right kind of waves, generated just enough interest, hopefully it will end up on Netflix Instant or something, where it can be discovered, and then maybe Jim Wood will get a little taste of that fame that he’s wanted so bad for all these years. At least he’s doing a HELL of a lot better than old Stinky Carl Crimson. THAT guy. Pffft.