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SXSW 2008: Jody and Dennis Lambert on “Of All The Things”

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03192008_ofallthethings.jpgBy Stephen Saito

Dennis Lambert may be the most successful singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of — unless you live in the Philippines. Although best known as the songwriter and producer behind everything from The Four Tops’ “Ain’t No Woman Like The One I’ve Got,” Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and, more infamously, Starship’s “We Built This City” (which Lambert calls “an accumulation of all the crap of the ’70s and ’80s combined”), Lambert made one solo album, “Bags and Things,” in 1972 that faded away almost immediately. A few years later, Lambert followed suit, moving to Boca Raton and transitioning into the real estate business. But if that were the end of the story, his son Jody wouldn’t have much to work with for “Of All The Things,” which follows the elder Lambert tour in the one place his solo album was successful — the Philippines — 35 years after its initial release. From dilapidated dancehalls to the arena that housed Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s “Thrilla in Manila,” Lambert is greeted with packed houses, playing all of the music he penned, in some cases for the first time in public. Since then, the 60-year-old has settled back into being a realtor and family man in Florida, but he and his son Jody, and the film’s producer, Taylor Williams, gassed up the tour bus once again to stop by SXSW, where Dennis played a few gigs in addition to talking with me about the rigors of touring and the most unexpected of comebacks.

How did the concert tour in the Philippines come about?

Dennis Lambert: I’ve been approached by this particular Filipino gentleman going back to when he just became a promoter, which was in the late ’70s. He’d been a deejay, a very successful one and he was beginning to promote shows on the side when he first approached me. Every so many years thereafter, I would hear from him — I think he came and approached me at least five times over that 30-some odd years. And the last time was in 2006, when I said yes.

Why was that the right time for you?

DL: I think there were a lot of factors, but firstly it was the urging to do it by my family, particularly my wife, Jody and my daughter. Jody knew my music the longest and was wondering why I wasn’t doing more. There were other factors that got in the way in earlier years, like being so busy with commitments to produce and write for people, and it would’ve created too much chaos and inconvenience for me and for everybody else who had to get it in sooner. In ’06, I was living in Florida, I was working in real estate, I was administrating my music and there wasn’t really anything I could fit in. My real estate partner said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll cover you if you need to leave. Go do this.”

How did it all become a movie?

Jody Lambert: When my dad said it might happen, I was thinking I was just going to get a home video camera and follow him around and learn iMovie. I started talking to Taylor, who’s my best friend and a big fan of Dennis, and he saw the potential for this to be something larger than a little home video tribute. I mean, we didn’t know what was going to happen when we got over [to the Philippines], but the story of a guy who was a really successful and prolific songwriter who now isn’t active and who gets pulled into it again is a real narrative and a real arc. Once he committed to it, we got a crew and some money from investors who saw the movie the way we did. We didn’t have a lot of time, but we just amped up and got it together and went with him and made the film.

03192008_ofallthethings2.jpgI would think the logistics of this were daunting — you had to shoot concert footage in a stadium, you had to shoot in the Philippines — how do two guys go about doing that in your first film?

JL: A lot of it was flying by the seat of our pants. We had two cameramen, so we shot all those concerts with two cameras. When we finally heard that the final show was at the Araneta Coliseum, when we heard how big it was, Taylor was like, “We’ve got to get more cameras.” So we ended up going for that real formal “Last Waltz,” kind of, everything on tripods for that final show. It was crazy because we were on the rock tour schedule, but it was great because it was the best of both worlds. We were making a film, but also on a rock and roll tour.

And you really do keep the concentration on the tour, but in your introduction to the film at the festival you said “There hasn’t been much music in my family, literally or metaphorically,” Was it your intent to keep the film about Dennis and less about your family as a whole? Did this film bring you and your father closer together?

JL: There wasn’t much of an inclination to put myself in the movie more, because I think that when we thought about the film, it wasn’t really about me. It’s about this decision that my dad made to do this, to go back out on the road, and we didn’t feel that the movie was a father-son discovery movie. God bless all the movies that are made by family members, but we didn’t want to do that sort of “My Architect” thing where it’s like “let me take you on a journey of my father and a journey of discovery.” That’s just not what we thought the movie was. It’s a rock movie, a fish out of water story, a comedy — the father-son element is the last part of it. As far as bringing us closer together, we’ve been close forever and it didn’t…

DL: If anything, this made us less close. [laughs] I’m still pissed.

JL: If I ever have to listen to his songs again… But no, it’s been a fun thing for our whole family — it didn’t heal any wounds or anything, because there really were no wounds.

So this isn’t your typical rock documentary — no family problems, no internal tension, no descent into madness, no drug addiction…

DL: There really wasn’t any drug use when there could’ve been for me. Lots of pot, lots of coke and lots of uppers to be in the studio hours on end. I lived pretty clean. Now, I’m into drugs. I take a diuretic, I take a cholesterol pill, blood pressure medication, Aleve, just for general aches and pains. [laughs]

Dennis, the film ends with you going back to a career in real estate, but are you doing more music now than you were before the film?

DL: Absolutely. This has opened up a lot of opportunities and given me a lot of food for thought. I’m working on a musical for Broadway, I’m now contemplating doing more live performances. I’ve done three or four in support of the film and they’ve gone really well. I had a sense that might be true because over the years, whenever people would say “Play a song or two for us” at a party, always you could hear a pin drop. It’s an intimate chance to listen to the singer/composer play his own music, especially if he’s not known to be the artist as well, and there’s something about that that’s interesting and intriguing for audiences and on a bigger scale, I see it now. I’m going to produce and write when the right thing comes along. But that would’ve been true before the movie, if people would reach out to me, to say “We want to have you involved in a new album.” If it was the right project, I would do it without hesitating.

[Photos: Dennis Lambert on tour in the Philippines in “Of All The Things,” The Shot Clock, 2008]

For more on “Of All The Things,” check out the official site here.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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