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40 Nights of Rock & Roll: The rebirth of Gonzo Journalism

on July 16, 2010, 12:01am

40 Nights of Rock & Roll is the first film by neo-Gonzo duo Steve Labate and Scott Sloan. The pair took on the daunting task of seeing and interviewing 40 bands in 40 nights to answer their burning question: What is the state of Rock & Roll in America today?

From the first of May to the ninth of June, the childhood friends criss-crossed the nation seeing bands as diversified as Train to Ratt to Sigur Ros’ Jonsi. Steve LaBate, a former editor of Paste Magazine, took the time to discuss the long and wicked journey.

“A lot of formulas, math, black magic,” LaBate says of the process of selecting the 40 artists to interview. “A few seances with rock and roll spirits. Who did we really love? We picked May 1st and made a list of who was on tour. We stayed up late looking at different routes and a diversity of sound. We really wanted to hit the entire country.”

After seeing such an array of styles, one would think there would be certain artists whose performance was head and shoulder above the rest. Not so says LaBate: “[We saw] so many good bands. We liked Jonsi of Sigur Ros. I didn’t like the record that much, but live, wow, he was breath taking. We also loved RATT in Maryland, which is 80’s cock rock, but they were great, their new songs weren’t terrible.”

Naturally, on such an illustrations trip, one is wont to have a good friend on board to not only take note, but also to help pass the time.

“I’ve know Scott since I was 16,” LaBate continues on about his co-conspirator. “I was friends with his young brother, Ryan, when I moved to Chicago. Scott was older, in college in Boulder. He would be home on the holidays. He had me and Ryan drink until we puked and then put on Where the Buffalo Roam. He introduced me to Hunter S. Thompson. Then I read Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. But he does have a sweet spot and he’s like a big brother.”

While the duo had strange and varied conversations with an ever varying cast of characters, LaBate credits Damien Jerod as having the best answer, who they spoke with in Salt Lake City.

“His take was-there’s no mystery left in rock and roll,” LaBate summarizes. “Everything is out there. Think about if [David] Bowie and [Marc] Bolan had Twitter in the 70’s – it demystifies rock’n ‘roll. That mystery is really important.”

Unfortunately for LaBate and Sloan, not everybody was as forthcoming. “Steven Jenkins of Third Eye Blind ultimately gave a good answer. We were at Marist [College], down by the river, and we ask him the first question, he sighs, stares at the ground, in total silence for 30 seconds and we thought, Is he going to answer? Then he said, ‘So…’ and launched into the answer. He worked in this rock’n’ roll, Mr. Rogers correlation, and from there it was great, especially since we didn’t think we were going to get an answer at all.”

Did all of this research into such a probing question allow LaBate any time to formulate his own answer? Yes. Did such an intergalactic journey of epic proportions have an effect on LaBate’s career? The answer to both questions is a qualified yes.

l 1e09c4a60e4f4911a66a540a6da626c8 40 Nights of Rock & Roll: The rebirth of Gonzo JournalismThe effects of the journey on LaBate’s career and mind set are Thompson-esque and philosophical. “[It was] more fun. I was drunk a lot more,” he says. “It was cool, different. There’s this wall everyone wants to put up between bookers, artists, and journalists. We’re not covering the fucking White House; these are people we would be friends with under different circumstances. No impartiality? Fuck yes. Most impartiality is feigned propriety and fake. We showed up and initially bands were nervous. But out questions served a purpose. The bands were relaxed. The bands respected us. We shared their experiences of being on the road and learned their experiences. When we talked to people it was low-fi, we showed up in a shitty black Jeep with a tripod. It was fuck yeah, rock’n‘roll.”

Will this transformative experience ever allow LaBate to go back to a traditional writing gig?

“No,” he concludes. “We were in the middle of nowhere, drinking whiskey and coke, we hadn’t seen a house in miles. I didn’t feel guilty about it. We were listening to the Dead Kennedys and US Maple and I thought, This is freedom. This is the American Dream, making hopefully a meager living being ourselves.”

Well amen to that.

For more information regarding this film, please visit the project’s official site.

Feature image by James Abshire.

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