Photo credit: William Alford
If you have never heard of cult crooner Fred Lane, your life will change on March 25, and you will transform into a crazed fan, like those interviewed in the documentary “Icepick to the Moon,” which should generate new acolytes and delight those already in the know.
Nineteen years in the making, “Icepick to the Moon” does more than just dig into the wild life and times of a truly original musician and artist; it is a strangely moving portrayal of what it looks like to live your life as an artist and outsider in a place like Alabama.
Even if you’ve never heard of a counterculture art collective called Raudelunas, birthed at the University of Alabama in the era of George Wallace, you might see yourself in some of their wild yet artistic collegiate antics. A loophole in the rules allowed them to march in the campus Homecoming Parade, and the film gives us lots of great footage of the motley crew whooping it up in a healthy variety of vegetable costumes and wailing on borrowed instruments.
From such happenings sprang this film’s main subject, the so-called Rev. Fred Lane, a character and alter ego invented by Tim Reed for musical performances. As Fred Lane, Reed dons glasses, removes the pants of his tuxedo, and adorns his goateed face with Band-Aids, standing with his band of similarly pseudonymous musicians and delivering Dadaist lyrics to swing inspired music, in the kind of deeply informed satirical style that only comes from solid musicianship.
If Fred Lane’s fans are relatively few in number, they make up for it in zeal, expertise and their own solid musicianship. Among those interviewed for this film are famed musician Col. Bruce Hampton, also memorably of the film “Slingblade,” Brian Teasley of Man or Astro-Man?, musicologist Lee Shook, Eric Friedl, and David Greenberger. These aficionados describe Rev. Fred Lane as the “Dada Duke Ellington” and a “Demon Frank Sinatra,” referencing his ability to take established jazz tropes and warp them to his own magnificently deranged purposes.
The cult of Lane reaches throughout the world, emanating from two albums released in the early 1980s and championed by college radio. “From the One That Cut You” was inspired by an amusingly illiterate threat note found in a 1952 Dodge Panel truck. “Car Radio Jerome” is based in various film noir scenarios and features a parody of a children’s song, “The French Toast Man.”
From these richly referenced touchstones, filmmaker, musician, actor and artist Skizz Cyzyk builds this documentary, named for Lane’s highly anticipated recent album, “Icepick to the Moon.” With archival footage, recent interviews and some nifty animation, Cyzyk does more than just tell the story of one fascinating man.
By following the decades long arc of many of the members of the Raudelunas, including vegetable themed furniture maker Crag Nutt, music improvisers Davey Williams and La Donna Smith, and composer Anne Labaron, a picture of artistic lives far outside the mainstream, and far from the supportive enclaves of a big city, emerges. I feel like this is pretty relevant to many people around Mobile, who should unquestionably check this film out.
As one Raudelunas member states, “I have lived the life of a poverty stricken artist, and enjoyed every minute of it.” The film catches up with those former college kids who dressed like broccoli and marched through Tuscaloosa, and I thought it was really moving to see how much and how little they have changed. Lane himself has devoted recent years to sculpture, but the band reunites to recapture lightning in a bottle for a live performance.
“Icepick to the Moon” will be screened at Alabama Contemporary Art Center, 301 Conti Street, Monday March 25 at 6 p.m., and filmmaker Skizz Cyzyk will be there to present and answer questions. There is a $5 suggested donation and it is free for members. After attending this screening, you will have no choice but to browbeat Fred Lane nonbelievers into fandom at parties, and you will live out your days scouring record stores for his work, and most likely grow a mustache, if applicable.
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