[email protected]”: Grandma’s rockin’ the house

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When I was a kid, my grandmother

was involved in a senior center choral and dance group. Every year there

was a recital, and we had to go. Think 20–30 old women and three old

men singing and dancing. The highlight was the restaurant we went to

afterward — an Italian restaurant that served individual pizzas and was located

in a strip mall with Old West décor. (Because Passaic, N.J. had a

big frontier history.) However, if my grandmother’s group had

been anything like [email protected], I suspect I would have enjoyed the

recitals a little more.

[email protected] is a Northampton-based chorus composed of senior

citizens, currently ranging in age from 72 to 88. (They’ve had members

as old as 100!) They’ve been around

since 1982
, and

have been on a dozen international tours. What distinguishes them from

the traditional old-lady chorus is that rather than sing the standards,

they sing current and classic rock, pop and punk songs. And I’m not

just talking about gentle Beatles songs. I’m talking about

the Ramones‘ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Sonic Youth‘s “Schizophrenia.”

They’re the subject of a documentary screening this week

at Sundance
and

scheduled for theatrical release in April.

You really have to see them

for yourself though. Here’s the trailer:





And a synopsis of the movie:

“Prepare

to be entertained by the inspiring individuals of ‘[email protected],’ a New

England senior citizens chorus that has delighted audiences worldwide

with their covers of songs by everyone from The Clash to Coldplay. As

Stephen Walker’s documentary begins, the retirees, led by their strict

musical director, are rehearsing their new show, struggling with a discordant

Sonic Youth number and giving new meaning to James Brown’s ‘I Feel

Good.’ What ultimately emerges is a funny and unexpectedly moving

testament to the simple things these seniors value: old friendships,

new challenges and a little time in the spotlight.”

I can make two predictions

about this documentary. (Or, actually, about how I will react to it.)

(1) It will likely be my favorite documentary of the year. (2) It will

make me cry. I’m easily moved and inspired by stories of older folks

who are adventurous and full of life (think Ruth Gordon as the

grandmother in My Bodyguard), and by anyone not limited by obvious

limitations.

These folks certainly seem

to have a sense of fun, and the movie is said to have its share of poignant moments.

Apparently, the scene of them performing “Forever Young” to an audience

of prison inmates is particularly moving. As is their performance of

Coldplay‘s “Fix You.” Coldplay has always left me … well, cold.

But this cover sent me in search of tissues.





Jody Rosen at Slate

put it quite well:

"It sounds like a gimmick,

and a cheap one at that, but the ‘Fix You’ clip was extraordinary,

not least because of the grave, graceful lead vocal performance by Fred

Knittle, who has a heart condition and sang with a breathing tube attached

to his nose. [email protected]’s ‘Fix You’ is touching and dignified. Most

importantly, it’s a fine piece of music.”

Given that my parents are approaching

the age of the chorus members, I’m prepared to find some bittersweet

inspiration from the movie. (And given that the chorus members hail from

Northampton, I’m looking forward to playing “spot the elderly lesbian.”)

So, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Fox Searchlight

release
this spring,

and I hope that some of you are looking forward to this movie as much

as I am.

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