Promotional graphics courtesy of Focus Features
I haven't seen The Sparks Brothers, the documentary film directed by our household fave Edgar ("Baby Driver") Wright but nonetheless was asked to contribute to Harvey Kubernik's feature about it in Music Connection, published today. Here's my observations, as follows:
"Noted photographer/writer Heather Harris provides a unique view of Ron and Russell from fifty years ago which is quite illuminating.
“The Sparks Brothers = The Marx Brothers, geddit? Like most of the UCLA community of artists, musicians, filmmakers and entertainment journalists of the late 1960s/early 70s, we all knew who one another were, despite the student body numbering some 40,000 souls at the time,” recalls Heather.
“We all liked the same wide nets cast of pop cultural happenings and would see one another at their gigs and assorted exhibits, film premieres etc., which is why I can verify the filmic reference of the initial name change of the band Halfnelson.
“I'll let someone else explain ‘the UCLA Mafia's’ future successes in the entertainment world, but what follows is its origin. Halfnelson and Christopher Milk were the two house rock bands of UCLA in that same era, the latter being fronted by my future better half Mr. Twister who was also a widely published music photographer then and containing amongst illustrious others Rolling Stone and Creem music reviewer John Mendelssohn of assorted notorieties.
“We all started our respective creative careers while still in university, partly because the ambitious entertainment sections of The UCLA Bruin, Icon and Index (both of which I was editor of in my last years at UCLA) put one in direct contact with all the record companies and movie studios of the era, who were more than happy to welcome loquacious students to freebie gigs and film previews to expound happily and wordily about their product. They even provided us with travel junkets!
“An Icon or Index review, good or bad, was after all a free advertisement to 40,000 young consumers,” she explains. “This made all parties, students, musicians, artists and company publicists alike very happy indeed in this all win/win scenario.
“We all liked everything new and cool no matter what medium, usually to incorporate magpie-like into our own effusive creations. Which is why it wasn't unusual to encounter Sparks' Ron and Russell Mael at a rare live concert by Greek avant garde composer Iannis Xanakis in West Hollywood. Xanakis was one of the very few serious musicians to incorporate the then spankin' new synthesizer (Moog or ARP) into his compositions. Since synthesizers were monophonic at the time despite their inevitably multi-tracked use in studios, the brothers probably shared a similar curiosity to see how this could work live.
“After the show I introduced myself as a fellow UCLA student who had seen them play live and I asked when they would do so next,” remembers Harris.
“They were cordial and replied that the very next day they were leaving Los Angeles for England to further their music careers, which for once did in fact spell fame and fortune, ‘This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us,’ etc. success ongoing up until today. If this isn't like encountering Secretariat right up at the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby, then at least to continue the equine analogy, it's like encountering Cinderella stepping into her pumpkin coach drawn by six white horses and about to go to the ball. Life-changingness ensued, at least for Sparks."