When the higher ups at Comedy Film Nerds asked me if I’d review a documentary about The Refreshments, I balked. I try not to write about things that I don’t like because there’s so much stuff that I do. And, while I couldn’t remember their music, I remembered that I didn’t like it. I wound up reviewing Here’s To Life because it turns out there are two bands called The Refreshments.
The Arizona band the documentary’s about are best known for their breakout single “Banditos” from their 1996 album “Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy” and for supplying the Bonanza-ish theme music for Mike Judge’s King Of The Hill. Along the way, the band made a fan of Alice Cooper (another Arizona-boy made good) and Matt Pinfield, who started playing them on MTV’s 120 Minutes, back when MTV was still breaking bands–not Reality TV Stars. With a hit single on a major label, their video playing on MTV, steady “mailbox money” from a television theme song flowing in, and a song on the “An American Werewolf In Paris” soundtrack, the band understandably figured they were on their way.
You don’t need to know any of this to enjoy Here’s To Life. I didn’t, and I did. Immensely. The Refreshments music was ahead of it’s time, and the band members all come across as nice guys in the interviews. And we all know what happens to nice guys.
But The Refreshments seem to be grateful for their shared experiences, it seems there’d be no problem if they unexpectedly wound up in a room together, and they’re all good storytellers. Three qualities that are rarely found throughout a band.
The film steadily reveals the band’s history; what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now, and covers the band’s transition from “The Mortals” to “All You Can Eat,” who made the wise choice to change their name to “The Refreshments.”
It was a change that might never have happened had the lead singer, Roger Clyne, not been in a motorcycle accident and traded his bottle of painkillers to the guitarist, Brian David Blush, in exchange for his vote. It turns out they liked all kinds of refreshments.
Blush tells a wonderful story about the filming of their second music video. Just to be cheeky, he agreed to allow the director to shoot it as a straight performance video on the condition that a monkey played his guitar solo. To the guitarist’s surprise everyone agreed, and Blush found himself on a couch, on the set, with an animal trainer warning him that the chimpanzee was powerful enough to rip his arm off–that it could kill him–and strongly suggesting the guitarist make no sudden moves. The metal door slides up, and the monkey exits his cage. The chimp looks to the right, and to the left, and sprints directly toward Blush, who nearly soils the sofa. Onscreen, Blush relates thinking to himself: “Now I’m gonna die, because I had to be a smart ass!”
The monkey must have been a Refreshments fan, because it hugged the gobsmacked guitarist and Blush reports with a smile that they were the best of friends during the filming of the video… that the monkey loved him! In the final shot of the video the guitarist gives his stand-in an affectionate thumbs up.
Danny Fields who had worked with The Doors and Iggy Pop (and is himself the subject of a new documentary) took over Mercury Records and several decisions were made by the new regime that negatively effected the future of the band. The band had unexpectedly become popular with Australians–who referred to the band as “The Freshies.” But their eagerly anticipated Australian tour was cancelled because the label insisted they needed a new record.
Their rushed second album succumbed to “The Sophomore Slump” which refers to a drop in the quality of the material on a band’s second album, because they had their whole life to write the first album, and a year to write the second. Those interviewed agree the single that the label chose wasn’t very good, and it didn’t sell, which lead to The Refreshments being dropped from Mercury.
The guitarist’s addiction to (other people’s) prescription painkillers lead to his leaving the band, but drugs don’t seem to have been a major part of the band’s undoing, which is as rare as kosher pork. No one punched a label boss, committed sexual assault, or got charged with involuntary manslaughter. The Refreshments are simply more likable than your average band, which this documentary really hammers home.
Lead singer/songwriter Roger Clyne and drummer P.H. Naffah decided to write some songs, get back in the van, and continue as an indie band; Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers. At the end, Producer, Director, Cinematographer, and Editor Taylor Morden’s film becomes a bit of a promo piece for the new collective, but that’s gonna happen when there’s still some gas in the tank when the documentary gets made. Here’s To Life certainly doesn’t look like a one-man production, and it accomplished it’s goal by making me want to see the band live.