NYC Cult Rockers TV Baby ‘Put Blood in the Music’ for a Rare Charles Atlas Film

New York is alright, but it’s just alright, but also, it’s great. Especially when a band you love presents the bands they love in a film that’s alright as a movie, but also is a great timepiece.

That was precisely the case on Monday, July 10, when fans of avant-garde cinema and music alike filled The Roxy Cinema for a rare screening of video artist Charles Atlas’s little-known DIY documentary, Put Blood in the Music, hosted by New York City rock’n’roll mainstays, TV Baby. Still hot off the release of their long-awaited debut LP, Dignity Don’t Dance, bandmates (and all-time BFFs) Matt McAuley and Brain McPeck brought the house down memory lane following a solid 75 minutes of rare John Zorn, Arto Lindsay, and Sonic Youth performances, and experimental green screen appearances by Karen Finley, Lydia Lunch, Glenn Branca that take the term “talking head interview” quite severely.

“I got this movie on a VHS tape when I was, like, 13 years old, from my aunt who would put cool shit on VHS tapes for me, and that’s how I learned about all of the people in this movie, and jazz, and whatever else,” said frontman and sax player McAuley to introduce the film. “She was cool, and I was lucky, and that’s it.” The rest is history (or, will be). But we were all the lucky ones that night, feeling our temperatures rise during the film’s live performances of Ambitious Lovers’ tantalizing “It Only Has to Happen Once,” and Hugo Largo’s sublime “Epic.” Both recordings appeared on YouTube some years back, but it was a wholly different experience amid the cool, dark theater, surrounded by the same kinds of kids, couture queens, and culture vultures that made Atlas’s New York the kind of place you came to to be sensory overloaded and stayed in once you were addicted.

“I was just starting to scratch the sniff of the iceberg of some of this stuff, and seeing Put Blood in the Music took me down, for better or worse, the rabbit hole,” McAuley explained in the Q+A following the film. “I probably watched it 30 times between the ages of 15 and 17, and I haven’t seen it since then.” Atlas, a longtime collaborator with Merce Cunningham, wanted to do something different with his documentary, incorporating elements as disparate as public access TV techniques, diegetic and nondiegetic sound, and professional-quality performance recordings into his 1989 film. Its influences bleed from TV Baby’s willingness to explore a wealth of genres across their sonic landscape: the 10 tracks on Dignity Don’t Dance traverse dance-rock, doo wop, and even techno in a way that makes Baryshnikov’s across the album’s black, yellow, and red cover art look less like a trick of the trade than a full-on leap into the void.

“In some ways, it’s like picking up a torch, you know, not letting something die,” McAuley said to a nodding McPeck. (Brain, who chimed in at times, is more of the strong and silent type.) “Things have to keep changing, but there’s a certain underlying thing that I think gives all of the change value.” Whether you’re a New York kid with more talent than anyone knows what to do with (Zorn), an experimental filmmaker with a camera eye that can’t sit still (Atlas), or a band of postmodern yucksters with dreams of being unassailable (Sonic Youth), New York City pulsed with that in 1989, and still rings with it today. As evidenced by this latest installment in the Artist Series, it’s less about your tuning than it is about tuning in.

Put Blood in the Music, hosted by TV Baby, screened on July 10 as part of the Artist Series. Pick up a digital copy of Dignity Don’t Dance here, and click here to grab it on vinyl.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Q + A.

Keep your eye on our events calendar for the next Artist Series event.

Words by Emerson Rosenthal
Video by Rob Fraebel