By ELI JACE >
“Everybody in your band has been psycho,”
Joe Cardamone’s wife, Charlotte, reminds him in the new film, The Icarus Line Must Die, released to streaming services last week by Dark Star Pictures. Encouraging words with subtle derision as Cardamone, singer and headmaster for the Icarus Line, stresses over getting a band together for an upcoming show.
The Icarus Line, out of Los Angeles, most often are compared to The Stooges. Both groups share the same manic scuzz thrashing and raw power anchored by spastic frontmen. But, if the Stooges were the cavemen crawling prehistorically and thumping the ground in lost sexual pursuit; the Icarus Line are those same cavemen generations later gobbling tangy psychoactive plants and then turning on each other.
The Icarus Line Must Die was shot in black and white and feels like an early-90s lost indie.
After what starts off as a seemingly straightforward rock band documentary, the narrative shifts to a quietly problematic conversation about money with Cardamone and Charlotte. The film finds its emotional center early. As the two sit in a cafe, we see the hurt on Cardamone’s face as he hears of the toll his music career is having on his wife. Her patience starting to bend, he knows he needs to make this work.
In 1998 the cringing began with Cardamone and the original line-up of Aaron North and Alvin De Guzman on guitar, Lance Arnao on bass and Aaron Austin on drums. Their first two full-length albums, Mono and Penance Soiree, are two of the great releases of the last thirty years. The music can be unforgiving; a knife jacked into your ear drum. Real nightmare shit to play in record label offices and predict sales for.
They were never going to find the Big Time, but they were going to leave every stage like a tornado of whips and dynamite had hit.
Sadly the group’s career suffered fits and starts and unofficially folded the night Scott Weiland overdosed in 2015. They were the opening act for the reunited Stone Temple Pilots and dissolved with the tour. Around this time, De Guzman became ill with bone cancer, pushing the future of the band into even murkier terrain.
The camera follows Cardamone as he embarks on turning a profit on the studio and finding a distributor for what would become the Icarus Line’s final album, All Things Under Heaven. Cardamone is left to run the studio he built with the last morsels of record label advance money and is hilariously encouraged to record a group of snotty rich kids for their dough. Cardamone squirms in his seat at the thought. When the “band” does come in for a session they treat Joe like room service and he righteously cuts the cord.
Cardamone walks the streets of Los Angeles in contemplation and anguish.
He is searching for the spark. He runs into a number of characters. Singer Annie Hardy and musician Ariel Pink bring comedic relief. Pink as the overly sure guitar virtuoso with more pedals than hours of practice and Hardy as the girl who asks the universe for guidance (herself). Keith Morris from Circle Jerks, Black Flag and OFF! worms into a few scenes to offer advice to Cardamone about recording, music, life.
The few scenes with De Guzman are heartbreaking as Cardamone offers dry humor to an untenable situation. The old friends share some laughs. De Guzman seems to have reached some level of contentment with his coming demise as he remarks on the absurdity of church’s holy comfort. He would pass on in 2017. The relationship between Cardamone and Charlotte is most powerful. His every move hinges on her opinion. She supports him even as his career hits a stagnation point. Utterly patient, with a gleam in her eyes, they slow-dance in the kitchen with the cocker spaniel watching, knowing they’ll get along.
The Icarus Line Must Die looks at the real world difficulties of maintaining a musical establishment in the shit-slide streaming era.
The focus is on a less-praised chapter in the life of a musician and doesn’t simply recant past glory. There is no washed Behind the Music formula at work here. Joe Cardamone chases his beloved band’s quiet fade into obscurity revealing life as it all comes apart.