Now that I have a little time to breathe, I thought I’d tell you a story about how this whole crazy ride came to be.
It was spring 1998. I was 20 years old. The previous fall some friends and I decided to ty our hand at low-budget, independent filmmaker. Inspired by what Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) and Robert Rodriguez (“El Mariachi”) had done, we set out to make a little vampire comedy called “Tainted”. To be honest, and I don’t think we were too honest with ourselves then, it was basically “Clerks” with vampires.
|“Tainted” on the shelf at Thomas Video – Spring 2014.|
So, after about 9 months of work, the film is done. We had screenings lined up. We need attention. I always felt the best way was to get someone to write something about it. That always seems to work better than advertising. And I always felt the best way to make that happen was to just stop in, press kit in hand, and, maybe, charm them a bit. We dropped off tapes; remember VHS, and press kits to the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, the Metro Times, and several other smaller community papers.
Then, we walked up those stairs above the bump shop to Orbit.
To be clear, Orbit was a lifeline for me. It was the place that focused on arts & culture but with a very funny, satirical tone. While the Metro Times covered many of the same things, it was Orbit that I enjoyed reading. I remember I found my first copy at the Macomb Mall Harmony House around my freshman year of high school and I was hooked. What I loved about Orbit was the tone. It’s sense of irreverence and making fun of things. Orbit was such an inspiration that some high school friends and I created our own underground student newspaper and cribbed a lot of the tone from that magazine.
|“In Orby We Trust!”|
Getting back to “Tainted”, as my fellow producer and I walked up the stairs to the offices above B&B Collision on South Main Street in Royal Oak, I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as the doors opened we were greeted by a visual cacophony. Stacks of old issues, messy desks, a cigarette smoke induced haze that filled the room above the bump shop. I would not enter the news business for several more years, but I realized that this was not the typical newsroom.
Within a few minutes we were introduced to publisher/editor Jerry Peterson. He was kind to us, at first. He asked us who we were and took the screener & press kit. Then he asked us what our plans were for the film after the local screenings. I said we were planning to send it out and see how it would do on the festival circuit. Then, out of Peterson’s mount came a sentence that soured me on the man for years to come.
“You don’t need that good of a film to win a film festival.”
For a minute, I stood there and looked at him. I thought, “Who is this guy? What the hell does that mean? Is he saying quality doesn’t matter at film festivals, was he giving me some kind of backhanded compliment or both?”
As a 20 year old kid, what Peterson said struck me. I seethed with a slow burn over it; kind of held a grudge. We got our write up in Orbit. We even had a second mention a few months later for another screening. I continued to read the magazine. But, for some reason, I couldn’t get past it. I just felt like he didn’t know me or my film. And, why would you say something like that?
For years I avoided Jerry Peterson. I worked for a time for his friends, Jim Olenski and Gary Reichel, at Thomas Video. From time-to-time those two guys, members of Cinecyde – a well-known and respected band that got its legs in Detroit’s legendary Bookie’s Club 870 scene, would regale me with stories of their shared wild past of the punk rock glory days.
Gary used to talk about the crazy exploits of Jerry Vile, Peterson’s “nom du punk”, his band the Boners, and more. But, I was still kind of bitter about my first meeting with Peterson, almost 10 years on. He could have painted the Sistine Chapel for all I cared. I was not a fan. I just didn’t like how he treated me the first time we met.
Fast forward: late 2008 – one of the last group shows at the CPOP gallery in midtown Detroit. My art was part of the show. Jerry Peterson was one of the judges. I didn’t see him there that might, but Rick Manore, who curated the show, started talking to me about Jerry. I bristled a bit but the conversation turned to Orbit and what a profound impact it had on my youth, how it covered my film, and I told the story of my first meeting Mr. Vile. Then, I just happened to blurt out:
“You know, someone ought to write a book…”
So, the genesis of this whole effort to tell the story of Orbit, Fun, White Noise, and more, comes from that conversation. It would be another two years before I got serious about the idea, choked back my resentment, met Jerry Peterson, got his blessing for the book, and started to dig into all this history I never knew existed.
|Jerry Vile serves shrimp at his 2014 show.|
What can I say about that meeting in the spring of 1998 now? Well, to be honest, what did I expect? Jerry Peterson, and his staff, made a career out of making fun of people in Orbit. They went after everyone – celebrities, bands, politicians, and even the competition, so, when I think about it, why should I be treated any different?
Since working, and completing the book, I can say that I have learned through observation that even a smartass compliment from Peterson should be seen as a vote of confidence, because, if he doesn’t like you, he’s just more than likely to ignore you. I have to say I’m glad Peterson didn’t ignore me the first time I met him. Nor has he ignored any of the hundreds of questions and requests I put to him for this book. I think we are better for it because there is rich history to be shared, and I’m honored to have the chance to tell the tale, and proud to call Jerry Vile a friend.