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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.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.