Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gathr Preview Series: Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Not a whole lot to say about this one - I don't know anything about Rowland S. Howard's music and the more punkish stuff didn't really appeal to me. I did kind of like the story was told, but I should probably have a sarcastic "substance-abusing musician" tag by now (although everybody who reads this is probably sick of hearing me complain about that).

Anyway, I wouldn't have seen it if the World Series has started a day earlier, like I thought it was going to. Not terribly disappointed it worked out this way, though.

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

I strongly suspect that I have complained about documentaries which seem to argue that someone wrecking his life and those of the people around him is more tragic because he could play the guitar enough for it to become just as tiresome as the movies themselves. So let's give Autoluminescent its due: That material is pretty clearly there for Rowland S. Howard, but the filmmakers clearly feel his music is more important, sacrificing familiar emotional beats to focus on it to a degree that is oddly refreshing.

To a certain degree, Howard's story is somewhat familiar: As a teenager in the late 1970s, he displayed an early talent for songwriting. The band he was in, The Birthday Party, left their small pond (Australia) to try and succeed on the big stage (London), falling apart just as they were about to break through. Other bands and solo works follow, some brilliant, but his career (and life) is cut short.

There is often a sense, when looking at the structure of musician biographies, of them being organized around the songs, and while Autoluminescent seldom stops to actually play one in its entirety, they do serve as something akin to quotation marks, bookending the discussion of a certain part of his life with the sort of music he was making at that time. It's most obvious early on, as interviewees marvel that he wrote "Shivers" at the age of sixteen, while Rowland's claims that was meant to be ironic even if Nick Cave sang it with sincerity help establish a whole slew of themes, from the romantic heart underneath punk material to the friction in every band with multiple songwriters but somewhat rigid roles.

Full review at EFC.

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