The Glamour & The SqualorUSA | 2015 | 82 minutes | Marq Evans
Festival screenings:June 3 | 7:00 PM | SIFF Cinema Egyptian (with after-party at Neumos, 21+ only)June 5 | 4:15 PM | Harvard Exit
"I loved music. I couldn’t be paid off."
One of the best documentaries this year in the Seattle International Film Festival’s Face The Music series, The Glamour & The Squalor is one of those insider stories that needs to be told, and it is written and directed for maximum love from both Seattleites and music freaks, and for those who are both.
I remember when I first heard the name “Marco.” It was probably some evening at the Cyclops, in excitement from an eager musician who had met him at a show and talked about him in hushed, happy tones. As if he was someone everyone in the music scene should revere and expect to do great things for us. I don’t know if I heard “Collins” till I became addicted to listening to his show shortly thereafter. He was our Marco.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that hearing about him that way was the case. That musician “came and went,” but Marco is still here, still raging it with local, high quality music. He’s starting over again now, bringing bands like Hobosexual and Hightek Lowlives to the new heads (and who are filmed excellently here). Yet for a time he was not only king of new music for Seattle, but also breaking future world-wide successes like Beck and the Prodigy to us first.
Back in the early 90s, though, it had been bleak years for Seattle quality music radio fans. Our once-adored, creative KCMU had been snuffed and shuffled aside by public radio yuppies through a thing called World Cafe. And it would be a few more years before KEXP stepped in and took back its original spirit, and moved it forward.
Old Pac NW underground rock fans like me had given up on the idea of any kind of classy, sassy, fun, and inventive radio programming. Seattle might have seemed like a mini-L.A. by now, with people streaming in to start bands left and right, but there was no regional KROQ to take care of stoking our alternative rock audio needs. For press we had The Rocket, which was awesome, and street fanzines, but the pirate radio and public access on cable could only do so much. And the music scene was getting so, so great -- and big, locally and nationally, entwined together - something had to break on those airwaves.
And something did, or someone at least broke it for us. Somewhere in those days, you started to see stickers for 107.7 The End at the OK Hotel, slapped around at bus stops outside clubs on the way to Lower Queen Anne - and when we listened in, we heard the hired a sweet, shaggy master curator of sounds both daring and delicious.
Marco Collins was raised in the sticks by a mother he adored, and an Irish cop father who was disturbed by his fervent KISS fandom, deep passion for new music, and his lack of interest in a potential female “sweetie” who lived nearby. In The Glamour & The Squalor, we come to understand how the cruel judgment of Collins’ father was later matched by fellow teenagers, who would beat the pretty lad up on the school bus. Marco would hang out with young women who would spray paint his jacket with an anarchy symbol (“I didn’t know what it meant but it looked cool!”), and somewhere in that viciously closeted adolescence his mom made him full believe he could do anything. And so he ended up in radio, moving to San Diego, and it is here where we find him turning listeners on to a very young Eddie Vedder in a band that was definitely late period post-punk, but unlike anything else really happening at the time.
A latter day punk himself, Marco knew he had to carry the word forward into the world. Although he’d been outcasted, picked on, and knew he was gay in a scene where rock and roll was dominated by “dudes,” he had mad charisma to get people to listen to new bands, and made a bee-line for Seattle. Early on in the splendidly made The Glamour & The Squalor, we hear the adoration from Collins’ fans -- famous people themselves, like Shirley Manson of Garbage, and Matt Pinfield of MTV. For ribald and racuous scenes that couldn’t be recreated verbally or filmed dramatically, some fun animation shows us watching Marco going night after night to Seattle clubs in the early 90s, holding his drink, shaking his head to the rhythm and distortion and feeling the music exploding out of this area rivet him, inspire him, flow through his world like spirits through William Blake.
Collins took on the role of a music evangelist for life, hitting the corporate, high-tower offices of 107.7, and doing crazy things like playing a tape of Nirvana’s In Utero before it was even near being finally mixed. Collins locked himself in a booth that late Friday afternoon and wouldn’t let the label rep in to take it from him; a gracious if pretty pissed off Kurt Cobain is actually filmed in the doc as commenting on it as being a shrewd move, but he was wary of such early versions being out in the world. By that Monday, this pirate grunge attack was shut down.
There are a few good, greasy stories like these in The Glamour & The Squalor, with gorgeous imagery featuring ample amounts of both glamor and squalor, and just enough band shots among the astute observations of Collins’ peers and revered performers. But it never gets too overly dramatic and sensationalized. Both the sunshine-beauty and night-time gnarly shadows of Seattle shines again and again throughout the story, as the strengths and weaknesses of its maven are revealed.
It’s horrifying as Collins realizes the unifying rock scene of the 90s was coming to a close with the very real threat of media consolidation making vital artists like Bjork “questionable.” That was it for him; 107.7 had jumped the rock and roll ship. Meanwhile, earlier, Marco had been living in quiet fear of his homosexuality being revealed; but in a very positive way, things changed about that over the next decade. This lead up to his efforts with Kerri Harrop and others in the scene supporting the basic civil right of marriage equality, something that seemed long overdue but still excited Collins, as it helped settle some of his own demons. By the spot-on time Macklemore cuts the elevated hip-hop anthem “One Love,” Collins’ joy at seeing equal right legislation passed fills a bar he witnesses it in.
He seems to be there alone, though. All by himself, yet finally set free. Due to the loneliness, and the pain, and the frantic ambition which fueled his cultural passions but also his addictions, at this point in the film he heads back to deal with the sources of his internal misery. This is neither overplayed or drawn out, but nor is it downplayed. It arrives at the only moment during SIFF 2015 where I’ve cried, but I have the feeling other people will have their own scenes to feel that heart-struck as well.
The Glamour & The Squalor is highly recommended, deeply affecting, and incredibly inspiring.