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Non-Prog DVD/Video Reviews

El Duce

The El Duce Tapes Blu-Ray

Review by Gary Hill

This is one I've wrestled with. The question is, "should Music Street Journal cover this or not?" We don't do negative reviews, but this isn't a negative review. The bigger issue is, we don't promote things that glorify hate speech or bullying. One might say that the band The Mentors (and as the lead singer and one of the architects of that sound El Duce) glorified hate speech, violence against women and more. Those arguments are valid, and for that reason I'm not sure that I'd cover the band at MSJ. It would b e a tougher decision than the decision to cover this or not.

This documentary is less about the band than it is about El Duce who was born Eldon Hoke. It is, as we'll get to shortly, appropriately a bit like watching a train wreck. You will find yourself unable to turn away. Hoke was a deeply troubled and ill man. The way this video is presented, essentially a series of interview pieces with him along with some other clips that include vignettes of him collecting his welfare check, panhandling on the street, playing with the band and showing up on talk shows to defend the music of the Mentors. Other clips include interviews with some of the people who knew him and various little things here and there that help to tell a story.

The thing is, this video doesn't really attempt to tell a story. Sure, it's woven into a narrative that looks at things in a chronological fashion, but it doesn't seem to attempt to make a judgment call as to what type of story is being shown. That's a good thing, really, because it allows the viewer to create his or her own understanding of what is shown.

My takeaways after one viewing? It's interesting that the Mentors came out of an effort by a group of musicians to create instrumental fusion jazz. When that didn't catch on with audiences they shifted to doing sex-driving, humorous music that was raw and simple. So, in other words a pre-meditated sell-out began the band, and their entire message and image were constructed in a less than serious way.

El Duce himself was deeply troubled. It's obvious from watching this video that he often said things that weren't true - there are places where he seems to contradict himself. His deep alcoholism certainly played into that. Personally, I think  that the alcoholism was a form of self-medication for something even deeper in his psyche, though.

I like how the video doesn't attempt to glorify him or the band. It simply presents them as what they are, and leaves any judgment to the viewer. El Duce comes across as a complex person who was full of contradictions. Some of that, though, is that I don't think you could ever be sure you were seeing the person or the image he was trying to sell as some form of entertainment. Perhaps they were one and the same.

This is not a positive story in any way, though. El Duce spent much of his life homeless. It could be argued (pretty successfully) that his controversial and "shock value" statements and art got him more attention than anything else, and much of that was in the form of attacks. He died when (according to reports) a group of fans called to him from one side of a train track. He attempted to cross to them and was struck by a train. There is something almost poetic about that as his life might be seen as a "train wreck."

The subject matter of this video (and this review) is difficult and complicated. Personally, the video made me feel uneasy. I wonder how society could have actually helped this man. I also wonder if he would have even allowed that. Whether you love him, hate him or land somewhere in between, it's obvious that his story was tragic, and he was a very complicated person. I would add that this definitely earns a parental advisory for all kinds of content from nudity to language and more. It seems it would be understood, but I wanted to make sure that's mentioned.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 2. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

 

 
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