A Good Band Is Easy to Kill
The life of Beulah
By Bernard Chapin
I first heard of Beulah in November of 2001 while I was sitting in the Riviera Theatre anxiously awaiting Cake's entrance from behind the stage. No backup band was advertised but, instead of my cowboy hat and white shirt wearing heroes, Beulah emerged. Within ten minutes time, this impatient Cake fan was won over by their performance. Maybe it was the melodies or maybe it was their enthusiasm, but, whatever it was, they were appealing. That weekend, I went out and bought their CD, The Coast is Never Clear. It was a good purchase because I still listen to it today, and there are numerous albums that I definitely cannot say that about. Due to my high estimation of the band, I was excited to see that a documentary had been released concerning them called A Good Band Is Easy to Kill. Happily, this weekend I had a chance to view it.
Unfortunately, the movie does not initially make a good impression. During the introduction, the lead guitarist and head of the band, Miles, disrespects Bob Dylan, a man who truly, unlike most of today's entertainers, deserves the title of artist--if not poet. Miles states that his new CD is superior to Blood on the Tracks. His rationale as to why is most peculiar and more comical than the statement itself. He seems to think that the fact that he put more "emotion" into his work makes it better. Hardly, emotion has no correlation (actually, in my opinion, it has a negative correlation) with musical quality. Miles further offended fans of rock & roll's greatest troubadour by saying "F--- Bob Dylan." I almost turned off the DVD right there.
I'm glad that I didn't though as, despite its inauspicious beginning, it turned out to be an interesting documentary. After the opening thirty minutes of banal equipment moving and tire changing, A Good Band Is Easy to Kill improves immensely. Other than Miles, the band, appears to be comprised of mature, authentic, and likable fellows. It's too bad that the lead guitarist gets so much of the spotlight as he's the only one whose personality ever grates, yet, I should mention, that he was the only person who made me to laugh out loud. It was not at him but with him. We overhear a cell phone call he has in which he reports that the rotunda they are supposed to be playing in is actually a "living room." He then grumbles that "a bunch of hippies are having a cooking class in there" and have no intention of clearing out in order to give the band a chance to set up before show time.
The scene in which they get into it with an effete, trendy Canadian is absolutely priceless. The camera pans over to a self-righteous pseudo-intellectual fan who succeeds in spoiling an after concert party by reflexively bashing America for the most irrational of reasons. It seems that all we do is declare wars. Ah, no, there would be tens of millions of people dead today were it not for the food and medical aid with which we provide. Besides, since World War II, what has his government ever done for anybody? Canadian politicians may project themselves as being the conscious of North America, but their leaders don't care about anyone. They can't be relied on to do anything aside from making sure that their citizens are taxed into poverty. At their current rate of spending, they'll achieve third world status before the end of the century. Although, we should all be grateful to Canada for showcasing to the world that socialized medicine is an inefficient, corrupt, people-killing mess.
Anyway, in the scene, one of the Beulah guys points out how irrational the metrosexual's views happen to be as the charlatan hates war but simultaneously wants to declare war upon capitalism. He said, in essence, I think you're a bit confused, war can't be good and bad at the same time. Young Pierre Trudeau had no answers in response. Another band member later remarked that the apartment of their anti-corporate antagonist was entirely furnished by IKEA. Bravo! How many other performers would stand up for our nation under any circumstance? Whatever that number may be, even fewer would ever consent to have their justifications filmed for the sake of posterity.
The strongest parts of the documentary can be found in the live concert sequences. They were entertaining and illustrated Beulah's considerable ability. My favorite scene was when they allowed some 17-year-olds to come in early to observe and participate in the sound check. Their age barred them from actually being present for the show. The youths were ecstatic over their proximity to the band and, upon leaving, were stunned and appreciative. It was a sincere, uncontrived moment. Seeing entertainers take a heartfelt interest in their supporters is always satisfying (and surprising). During their actual concerts, they brought audience members forward to dance and play the tambourine onstage which further indicated this ensemble's dedication to their admirers.
A Good Band Is Easy to Kill lacks the polish and intensity of Wilco's I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, but it is stimulating and has something to say.
Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago. He can be reached at
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