Wednesday, April 29, 2020

1988's 8mm Concerts: Butthole Surfers, Half Japanese & Alex Chilton

Somewhere in the back of your closet buried among cassette mix tapes and the Frankie Say shirt you're embarrassed to have ever worn but secretly love might be 8mm film footage that you should've digitized decades ago. It's the kind of millstone you'll never divest yourself of, but which will take an act of god before you put the pieces in motion to do something about. In my case it's an astonishing trifecta of my childhood home burning down, a global pandemic and surgery on a broken toe that opened up vast swaths of unlimited time for sit-down projects. That and winning the high bid on a Wolverine Pro 8mm film scanner.


Presented here for you to poke with a stick is the product of that trifecta: vintage digitized 8mm film footage of the Butthole Surfers, Half Japanese and Alex Chilton all filmed over the waning months of 1988.

Butthole Surfers at Numbers, Houston April 27th 1988

Looking at this from the perspective of 2020s technology it seems absurd that one can now hold aloft a Hershey bar sized 4k / 60 frames per second low-light video camera that's also a phone and think nothing of it. Back then I borrowed a camera from the university A/V department and spent money I definitely didn't have on Super8 Kodak film and captured these shows on two 50ft reels. The limitations of the film are enormous: slow ISO speed, hard to focus in the dim viewfinder, can't set proper apertures in strobe lights, etc. Yet here it is.

Half Japanese at Tipitina's, New Orleans Dec 9th 1988

Chances are the film does have sound - but the Wolverine Pro film scanner doesn't do sound, so I'll link to someone's fantastic recording of the Butthole Surfers concert for full effect. Some lovely savant also enshrined the Half Japanese setlist here - obviously a giant among men. Another lovely act of generosity tells us that Alex Chilton played at Hal and Mal's, Jackson, Mississippi May 19th, 1989 but alas there's no setlist. Happily there's now a grainy 8mm film commemorating a night on Earth.

I'm an alumni of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, a tiny oasis of culture in a vast cultural wasteland of churches, pastures and soy farms. If I wanted to see a good show that meant up to a 600+ mile roundtrip to New Orleans, Houston or Dallas. Being broke meant carpooling. The Butthole Surfers show in Houston was a slog with my pal Jeff piloting his Gti with Michael Donaldson, Les Jordan and myself as paying ballast. The venue was DIY punk ethos personified, Houston's Numbers club, a dilapidated warehouse in an apocalyptic industrial district straight out of Repo Man.

Cameras were not welcome but I'd prepared a laughably unlikely ruse to bring my 8mm film and still cameras in: a laminated card that simply stated "PRESS" which I tucked into the front band of a very cliche felt fedora I found in a junkshop. Which worked. Once inside it was mayhem and insanity as the show had just started. Some was filmed from the pit where being moshed upon was a risk, so I decided to try my luck carting my gear backstage to film from the side. A bouncer guarding the stairs glanced at my dumb hat and unbelievably waved me up but took great exception to the guy behind me emboldened at my success who tried to follow, receiving meaty hands on his shirt and a heroic flying shove well back into the crowd. Whew.

MORE TO COME on this post - I had to stop editing this to focus on the post after it re. Florian Schneider's death. Check back, and thanks!




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