directed by Chris Suchorsky
starring The Damnwells
Last Weekend Productions
The tale of a young rock band that gets mercilessly screwed over by their record company is not a new story, but it’s certainly one that’s been brought vividly to life in director/editor Chris Suchorsky’s compelling documentary Golden Days.
The film follows The Damnwells, four twenty-something friends from NYC as they land a major label deal with Epic Records and set about recording an album, Air Stereo. A straightforward-enough task, you might think, but as is the case for 95% of new bands signed to similar recording contracts, nothing is ever what it seems.
The band is quickly exposed to the frustrating politics and subterfuge which characterizes the top levels of the music industry as its recording sessions continue and the album’s release date keeps getting pushed back. But it’s not an issue the band are oblivious to; the illuminating interview segments which form the basis of Golden Days reveal that the band members are all too aware of the realities of their situation.
The intelligent and articulate frontman Alex Dezen in particular has a remarkable ability to see through the facade of the music industry. In one scene, while leafing through Rolling Stone, he scathingly dismisses a fashion photoshoot featuring an up-and-coming band wearing $1,000 jackets: “They are probably nice guys,” he says. “But this is bullshit. I don’t understand how this would make someone go out and buy their record. But what do I know? They got more fans than we do.”
Then, in a tense post-recording meeting with the band’s A&R guy at Epic, Dezen predicts everything that ultimately happens to the band, including the loss of their record deal; predictions that the A&R man assures him are all inconceivable.
That the news Dezen expects comes a few days later via a curt phone call to the band’s manager is no surprise, and neither is the frontman’s profound, emotional monologue when he comes crushingly close to giving up on his rock and roll dream and getting a day job.
But it’s not just the strength of such material that makes Golden Days so riveting. The film is superbly edited, making judicious use of The Damnwells’ music, live shows, and unreleased demos. Suchorsky’s juxtaposition of The Damnwells with their Epic labelmates The Fray (who eventually ended up selling 2 million records and who they frequently toured with) is also skilfully done, underlining just how much of a lottery the music business really is.
A deal with Rounder Records to release the shelved Air Stereo record provides a happy ending of sorts, but the universal theme of Golden Days ultimately leaves you recalling Hunter S. Thompson’s memorable observation “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs”.