Ever since I started writing blogs and reviews online, I’ve had to learn to seem unbiased when writing. Well, maybe unbiased isn’t the right word. Reviews and editorials are a form of writing that ultimately boil down to bias and personal perspective, but it has made me learn to communicate my opinions in a way that isn’t capslocking my way through it, even if I want to. I definitely wanted to after I saw Pacific Rim.
But last night, I saw a film that I realized I could never talk about it in a fair way or communicate how people who aren’t as familiar with the source material might enjoy the film.
I still wanted to talk about it though.
This blog is about Butch Walker: Out of Focus.
I’ve talked about Butch Walker on this blog before. I’m sure I’m going to talk about him more after this post as well. It’s hard for me not to talk about him, really. He’s been a major influence on my life since I was 16 years old, confused, angry, and tired of living in Cartersville. His music got me through questioning my sexuality, endless crushes, my parents divorce, the death of my great-grandmother and grandpa, depression, and a whole host of other things that I’ve experienced in the last seven years. Several friendships I have were built on a mutual love of Butch Walker and his music. He was a driving force in my decision to move to Atlanta for college and I haven’t looked back since. I even have a tattoo of his lyrics on my leg.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s recognizes me now from all the shows I’ve been to and is happy to see me when I go to say hi to him afterwards. He’s not just a great musician, but he’s a sweetheart to boot.
When I heard that this documentary was happening (in fact, I was right behind the camera guy on the front row when Butch played The Variety Playhouse two years ago), I was pretty excited about it. Butch is kind of a private person about certain parts of his life that don’t involve music, so getting a documentary was exciting. Especially one directed by one of my favorite music video directors Shane Valdes.
It wasn’t until I was sobbing somewhat loudly in the Plaza Theater halfway through the film that I realized there’s no way I could ever talk about this film except from my perspective as a fan.
Some of the stuff in the film, I had seen before or known about from reading Drinking With Strangers. Some of it I had even seen in person. But the film itself really was a bit of a pull back of the curtain to a side of Butch rarely seen by fans. Focused around the recording of The Spade and a gig Butch played solo in England later that summer, Valdes and Peter Harding let us see the man at some of his most personal moments. From the in between moments that made up the recording sessions of The Spade to a strangely transposed rehearsal of ‘Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought of You’ in his hotel room to moments of him being a father to his son Jamie, it was parts of Butch I always knew were there, but had never gotten a chance to see. There are also very personal moments with just him and the camera that really assured me of how genuine Butch is as a person. He’s not in this industry for fame, money, or to even to try and change the world. He does it because he loves it, and he struggles with family and day to day like the rest of us, success or no.
Then there was the part with his dad.
There’s a part in the film where the crew goes to speak with Big Butch and Melissa Walker, Butch’s parents. This was done two years ago when Big Butch’s health was failing, but he passed away at the end of August before the release of the film. I’ve heard stories about Big Butch through the years. I even have one myself from when I briefly met him after the release of I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart. It was always easy to see where Butch got it from and the stories I’ve heard of his parents’ support made me extremely happy to hear. It made it heartbreaking when Butch announced that his dad had passed away.
It was going in with that knowledge that made the ‘Day Drunk’ scene in the film harder to watch.
There’s a song on The Spade called ‘Day Drunk’. It’s essentially about Butch coming to terms with his dad’s condition and having to be away from Georgia because of work and family. He talks about it more in the film and reveals parts of the story I had not known about. I always knew it was about his dad. It’s right there in the song. When it came out though, my grandfather had passed away two months earlier after his struggle with lung cancer. That always made it hard for me to listen to ‘Day Drunk.’ My emotions about the time I didn’t get to spend with my grandfather or the fact I never really got to say goodbye to him would get conflated in the song. At best, I’d feel kind of sad before going into ‘Synthesizers.’ At worst, it would be actual crying. When I listen to The Spade casually, I sometimes skip over ‘Day Drunk’ depending on how I’m feeling.
In Out Of Focus though, it’s something I couldn’t skip. It’s Butch talking about the song overlaid with the recording of it, then overlaid with Big Butch talking about his own relationship with his father, hoping that Butch knows how much he loves him, and that he’ll always be there for him and Jamie. It’s the words of a man who knows his time is limited, but he still takes time to tell his family that he loves them more than anything else.
So when I cried, it wasn’t just for Butch and his father. It was for our shared hometowns. It was for the fact I miss my grandpa and wishing I had gotten to say my goodbyes before I left for Alaska that summer.
There were things I wish had been in the film. Maybe interviews of other past band members like the one with Darren Dodd. An introduction to Shovels and Rope instead of their brief cameo recording ‘Are You Getting All The Love You Need’ without saying who the hell Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are to Butch. More concert footage, especially since the Atlanta show they recorded ended up relegated to the credits. Perhaps even interviews of people Butch has worked with.
In the end though, I realize that as much as I want those, the film was exactly what it needed to be. It was a portrait of a man I admire and getting to better understand who he is as a person and not just as an artist or producer. How his life fuels his passion and how he affects the people in his life and how they affect him. I know I’ll definitely watch it again, especially since it comes out tomorrow on iTunes and on VOD.
I don’t know how to recommend the film though because I’m so thoroughly invested in Butch that of course it was something I was going to watch. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth seeing. If you’ve heard of Butch through other artists like Pink, Panic! at the Disco or Fall Out Boy, but don’t really know who he is, it’s a good introduction to his life outside of that. If you have no idea who he is at all, then I really don’t know how you’ll view the film. Maybe it’ll bore you or pique your interest to look more into his music.
Which I kind of hope it will.