Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Boatmen, rowing on

Drive Somewhere: The Saga of the Vulgar Boatmen,
Fred Uhter's hour-long documentary about what Robert Christgau reportedly once called "the best band you'll never hear," is finally finished. For those who are unfamiliar with the story of the Boatmen, it's a rather complicated tale spanning 30 years and involving something like 28 band members, a more than ample amount of good music, and some typical record business screwery that torpedoed the group just as they appeared to be on the verge of breaking out. The group's two principal songwriting partners, Dale Lawrence and Robert Ray, neither of whom was involved in the band at its inception, lived and worked in different states and collaborated by exchanging cassettes (remember those?) through the mail. (Ray is a fairly well-known professor of film studies; Lawrence, in his pre-Boatmen days, was a member of the Indiana punk band the Gizmos) As for the music itself, think Buddy Holly filtered through the Velvet Underground and you'll be on the right track, though saying so doesn't give the group proper credit for how original they were. And did I mention the viola?

The Boatmen cut three records (not counting some limited-release cassettes and a compilation, Wide Awake), two of which, You and Your Sister and Please Panic, seem to be available; their final effort, Opposite Sex, has never been released in the US. Robert Ray and the Gainsville, Florida branch of the group threw in the towel years ago, but Dale Lawrence and the other members of the Bloomington, Indiana contingent continue to perform, at least occasionally. Fred Uhter's documentary, which has a nice mix of archival and concert footage and interviews, can be downloaded from NewFilmmakers Online.

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