It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.
Cerveris: I’ve been a fan of documentaries in general for a long time. Real life is almost always more amazing than fiction. And I don’t mean Reality Television, which is about as manipulated and false a kind of storytelling as there is. In documentaries, the discipline required to let subjects reveal themselves and to give form to a story that is not a fiction has always impressed me. And the tension between the filmaker struggling to maintain objectivity and the subjects’ need to tell their own stories is always fascinating.
And then you add music.
I love music documentaries, and there have been some great ones in the last few years. One of the most moving I’ve ever seen was Tom Berninger’s Mistaken For Strangers about his brother Matt’s band the National. It captures the essence of brothers and bands and the notion of fame and family and public versus private success and failure and the quest for what matters with such astonishing clarity and kindness. It’s a marvel. I saw it on a plane and wept unashamedly at the end.
Other music docs are favorites because of the subject—like HBO’s Mavis! film of the glorious Mavis Staples. The Muscle Shoals movie and the Big Star doc Nothing Can Hurt Me are both fascinating, not just for the incredible music that came out of Fame and Ardent Studios, but for the portrait of music scenes deeply rooted in a sense of place and time that each film captures, and the ripples that we still feel when we hear the music made there.
And then there are the films that put a camera in the midst of the chaos and everyday catastrophes of being in a band. Not just the megastars like Mettallica’s Spinal-Tap-for-real Some Kind Of Monster or the battle of the indie bands Dig! but the beautifully shambolic Guided by Voices’ Watch Me Jumpstart (every bit as DIY and endearingly rocking as the band itself) or Drive By Truckers’ tumultuous story of near collapse and survival in The Secret To A Happy Ending. For girlfriends who need to understand the tedious beauty of being in a band or trying to make a record (i.e. why they shouldn’t just dump you—or maybe why they should), there’s no simpler explanation than to sit them down and show them perpetual journeymen heroes Lucero’s Dreaming In America or Wilco’s indie rags-to-riches I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.
But my favorite of all might just be the elegiac Be Here To Love Me about Townes Van Zandt. Beautiful, broken and far too brief.
Video after the jump.