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LOVE AND ROCKERS Interview with Theodoros Bafaloukos

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  • LOVE AND ROCKERS Interview with Theodoros Bafaloukos

    This is Ted at his childhood home on the island of Andros, Greece. We’ll let him explain the rest of what you’re looking at.
    Theodoros Bafaloukos wrote and directed Rockers, the film that single-handedly made Jamaica and reggae interesting to couch-cozy white folks, their stoner kids, and a bunch of famous English punks with guitars. Today, Ted is not so reclusive as he is remote, spending his time at his childhood home on the secluded Greek island of Andros. Over 30 years after the film's initial release, we made the long journey for this, his first-ever print interview.

    In addition to screenwriting and filmmaking, Bafaloukos was also a production designer for three Oscar-winning directors (Barry Levinson, Errol Morris, Jonathan Demme) and has helped conceive countless famous music videos, including that one for Aerosmith where Alicia Silverstone bungee-jumps off a freeway overpass in a flannel and then flips off Stephen Dorff.

    After a brief tour of his house—several hundred paintings and images of magnified snake parts dot the walls—he sat us down and started thumbing his way through some old photo albums. Many of these were from his time shooting Rockers. As you’ll see, it’s a trove of archival happiness.

    Vice: How did you first find yourself in Jamaica?
    Theodoros Bafaloukos:
    I went there in 1975 as a freelance photographer for Island Records with a friend, a young guy in the reggae scene. We took photos of faces on the island. It was interesting and exciting. It was also funny because they arrested me as a CIA spy.

    Uh-oh. What happened?
    I’d gone to a radio station to speak to someone from the community. I wanted to ask him for equipment and for help shooting a documentary—which is what I wanted to do originally. I was in the car with my friend, who was driving, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a man sticks his hand through the window, grabs a small notebook from my chest pocket, and runs into the building shouting “CIA, CIA!” I got out and tried to run after him, but when I got back, my friend and the car had vanished. I was scared. I found myself completely stranded, surrounded by strangers. The friends who had left told me later that they were terrified. We’re talking about a time when fear reigned and everyone was scared.

    When did the police arrive?
    Two jeeps appeared out of nowhere, full of cops—some in uniform, others looking like bouncers. The tougher ones with Uzis pounced out of the vehicle and arrested me. They put me in the jeep and paraded me through the streets at low speed so all could see that they had arrested a CIA agent! They took me to the police station, where it became obvious that they had no idea what to do with me. So they took me to another guy, who interviewed me.

    An interview?
    An interrogation. When I entered the room, the interrogator was seated behind a desk with my notebook next to him. I went over, picked up the notebook from the desk, and put it into my pocket.

    Gutsy. What was in the notebook?
    The addresses of all the people I had met on the island, mostly musicians. I had promised to send them photographs upon my return to America, which I did.

    So did they let you go immediately?
    After I put the notebook in my pocket the guy said nothing, didn’t even budge. I answered his questions but he didn’t even know what to ask me. He had probably made a few phone calls and realized that this was all a mistake.

    “Me and Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, the legendary pioneering drummer and star of Rockers, modeling in downtown Kingston, 1977.”
    Looking at pictures of you from this period, you looked more like the lead in a Zapatista porn than a CIA agent.
    Why, what does a CIA agent look like? [laughs] I had a Greek passport, which made me look even more suspicious. They took it away and kept me there for what seemed like an eternity. Another guy came to interrogate me, but that again led nowhere. It was 10 or 11 at night when suddenly this white guy appears and says, “Come with me,” leads me out of the room, puts me in a cab, and says, “Go, just go.” I said, “What about my passport?” And he said, “Get out of here, man.” So I left. I went to the house I was sharing and found them all there: my friend, Augustus Pablo, the whole gang. They were all younger than me. They were all scared and staring at me as if I had come back from the dead. They basically said, “Sorry, they’ll come to kill you tonight and we don’t want to stick around.”

    Were they teasing you?
    No, they weren’t. Stuff like that happened all the time.

    This is a completely different picture of Jamaica than the one you present in Rockers.
    There was this idea that everything was going swell, because of Bob Marley’s success. Even for reggae, the reality was different—much harsher. And harsher still for a white guy in the middle of it. I lived there for a couple years before we started shooting. Those Jamaicans living in the ghettoes of Kingston were innocent people in their everyday lives and this is exactly what I wanted to capture in the film—a more realistic picture of who they were, or who they really wanted to be. Something like Robin Hood. Jamaica was a fantasy world where reality as we knew it could not exist.

    How do you mean?
    They lived in a setting that cut them off from the real world. You had nowhere to go; there was seldom someone you could call “Dad.” There were simply men who had relationships with women. There was no real family structure. In most cases, children were not acknowledged, and though you would grow up with a mother, there was nothing there to support you in any way, because it was really tough. It was practically impossible for anything to come out of that situation apart from a tolerance for violence, a gang mentality among young kids as everyone else struggled to eke out a living. But it’s important to realize that a great many people managed to live under these conditions peacefully and productively. This was something.

    How did Jamaica feel to someone from Andros and New York?
    Really exotic. An unusual experience.

    Even more unusual than New York? You’re from this tiny village in Greece.
    Look, I left Andros for Athens at age 17 from this very house, from this very table we are sitting around right now. I was lucky enough to have a very open-minded father who advised me—without pressuring me—to go to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the world’s top design schools.

    When was this?
    This was between 1964 and 1968—the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll era. After school I returned to Greece during the junta, to serve in the military. In the meantime I married Eugenie—this year we celebrate 39 years of marriage. After my discharge from the army we went to Minnesota and after that we packed up and went to New York. We became bohemians and lived in an abandoned building in Tribeca.

    How did you earn a living?
    I worked various freelance jobs. Eugenie worked in the textile industry as a designer. Basically, I kept myself busy repairing the building we lived in and would work odd jobs. I worked as a photographer, until New York magazine commissioned me to do a shoot of a young Jamaican at the Tropical Club, a seedy club in Brooklyn. I went there and suddenly Augustus Pablo appeared playing a melodica. I was dumbfounded. He was also the first one I met.

    “It was the summer of 1977 and we were shooting Rockers in St. Ann’s, on the north side of Jamaica. The actors and the crew carried supplies and equipment through the hills to shoot a scene in a ganja field.”
    At that point, what did you know about reggae?
    I heard Bob Marley for the first time while he was with the Wailers in 1974, totally by fluke. Eugenie and I were on our way to Minnesota and we stopped for a few days to see a friend in Chicago. One night she said, “Let’s go to a club with interesting music,” and it was Bob Marley. It was an unbelievable gig.

    What sort of music were you into back then?
    Many things. Mainly rock music and R&B. My wife had two brothers who played the guitar. And lots of blues, of course. If my heart had only room for one kind of music, it would have to be the blues. Everything began in a bizarre sort of way through my love for rebetika.

    Rebetika being a Greek form of the blues.
    What happened with rebetika and the blues happened with Bob Marley’s music as well. Rocksteady and ska were already around, but when I heard Augustus Pablo I realized that it was something very profound, something over and above what you heard. Reggae had musical depth and a great variety of sounds. If you look at reggae between the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, you won’t believe that it was all done by the same 20-odd people in the Kingston studios. Literally. All these genres emerged simultaneously and from the same musicians—ska, rocksteady, reggae, rocker, the dubs.

    They were one and the same?
    The people who began ska also began reggae: no more than two or three drummers, guitarists, and bassists. The quality of the singers became crucial, their ability to inspire the musicians. The sound was there, and the only thing missing were the little 45 rpms that had to be cut as quickly as possible—in two hours, even in a half hour—so that costs were kept at a minimum. The recordings would be done in rudimentary studios, the new tracks played in big outdoor dance sessions, over the weekends, traveling with vans chock-full of amps and massive speakers. This was music intended for immediate consumption. Later they began recording 45s on the spot and selling them in just a few shacks or shops. That’s how it was. And they sold more in the UK and fewer in the US.

    The UK was always more open to reggae.
    Yes, the fact that Jamaica was a British colony was a factor in this. It was easier for a Jamaican to go to England than to the US, because of passport and green-card issues. Also, they had absorbed reggae to a greater degree. Bands such as 2 Tone, the Selecter, and others were all very important. I also believe that punk music owes a lot to reggae. They had the same attitude. This was also the reason there were punk covers of reggae tracks.

    Was all this a strictly local Jamaican scene? Was it some sort of ghetto?
    Very localized. You could call it a ghetto, but it wasn’t really. Ghettos in Jamaica were neighborhoods of blocks built around courtyards, like Athens in the 20s and 30s or like African villages. In them were social structures with a life of their own that functioned separately from the broader context, which was the government, the police, the army, and the justice system. The local radio stations seldom played any reggae. They played soul and disco, as did the clubs.

    They didn’t support their own scene?
    It wasn’t their own scene, because no one made any money from it. Only a few guys who owned the sound systems made any money. In fact, only two people were behind most of the first releases: Coxton Dodd [of the Studio One label] and Duke Reid [of the Treasure Isle label]. When the genre started gaining ground internationally, things began to change, and by the mid-70s reggae as we knew it disappeared. It was impossible for the same people to be in so many bands. There were only enough musicians for five or six bands. Bob Marley took with him some of the best. The others started moving to New York and London. By the end of the 70s, there was no one left. You could say that it all ended with the One Love Peace Concert in 1978.

    “This area, known as ‘Idlers’ Rest,’ was around the corner from Randy’s Record Shop. Musicians, singers, and would-be singers would loaf about listening to the newest 45s spin, waiting to be called in for a session.”
    It’s interesting that Rockers is missing many of the typical Jamaican ingredients, such as the palm trees and the beaches. Why is that?
    It’s done on purpose. My aim in the film was very simple: From the beginning I thought of it as a song, and so the issue was not what to include, but what I would leave out. I had to choose. You can’t fit everything in a film. My grandmother, who had never gone to school and was a wonderful woman, would watch me draw when I was young and say, “This is too loaded,” if I had put in too many elements. In my case, I tried to stay within a certain framework and I did not see myself as a filmmaker, but generally as an artist.

    Were you confident your movie would be a success?
    I felt that the film was going to be exceptional, but at the same time my mind was fixed on completing it. Anything could happen during the shoot, which could make the whole project go up in flames.

    More: http://www.vice.com/read/love-and-rockers-305-v17n1

  • #2
    Sound is great on this one...listen to the drums at the beginning.

    Comment


    • #3
      The party at 29.00 kills me....the guy with the green suit. Who is the guy in the red suit at 30.15 :rofl and what song is playing?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Tropicana View Post
        This is Ted at his childhood home on the island of Andros, Greece. We’ll let him explain the rest of what you’re looking at.
        Theodoros Bafaloukos wrote and directed Rockers, the film that single-handedly made Jamaica and reggae interesting to couch-cozy white folks, their stoner kids, and a bunch of famous English punks with guitars. Today, Ted is not so reclusive as he is remote, spending his time at his childhood home on the secluded Greek island of Andros. Over 30 years after the film's initial release, we made the long journey for this, his first-ever print interview.

        In addition to screenwriting and filmmaking, Bafaloukos was also a production designer for three Oscar-winning directors (Barry Levinson, Errol Morris, Jonathan Demme) and has helped conceive countless famous music videos, including that one for Aerosmith where Alicia Silverstone bungee-jumps off a freeway overpass in a flannel and then flips off Stephen Dorff.

        After a brief tour of his house—several hundred paintings and images of magnified snake parts dot the walls—he sat us down and started thumbing his way through some old photo albums. Many of these were from his time shooting Rockers. As you’ll see, it’s a trove of archival happiness.

        Vice: How did you first find yourself in Jamaica?
        Theodoros Bafaloukos:
        I went there in 1975 as a freelance photographer for Island Records with a friend, a young guy in the reggae scene. We took photos of faces on the island. It was interesting and exciting. It was also funny because they arrested me as a CIA spy.

        Uh-oh. What happened?
        I’d gone to a radio station to speak to someone from the community. I wanted to ask him for equipment and for help shooting a documentary—which is what I wanted to do originally. I was in the car with my friend, who was driving, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a man sticks his hand through the window, grabs a small notebook from my chest pocket, and runs into the building shouting “CIA, CIA!” I got out and tried to run after him, but when I got back, my friend and the car had vanished. I was scared. I found myself completely stranded, surrounded by strangers. The friends who had left told me later that they were terrified. We’re talking about a time when fear reigned and everyone was scared.

        When did the police arrive?
        Two jeeps appeared out of nowhere, full of cops—some in uniform, others looking like bouncers. The tougher ones with Uzis pounced out of the vehicle and arrested me. They put me in the jeep and paraded me through the streets at low speed so all could see that they had arrested a CIA agent! They took me to the police station, where it became obvious that they had no idea what to do with me. So they took me to another guy, who interviewed me.

        An interview?
        An interrogation. When I entered the room, the interrogator was seated behind a desk with my notebook next to him. I went over, picked up the notebook from the desk, and put it into my pocket.

        Gutsy. What was in the notebook?
        The addresses of all the people I had met on the island, mostly musicians. I had promised to send them photographs upon my return to America, which I did.

        So did they let you go immediately?
        After I put the notebook in my pocket the guy said nothing, didn’t even budge. I answered his questions but he didn’t even know what to ask me. He had probably made a few phone calls and realized that this was all a mistake.

        “Me and Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, the legendary pioneering drummer and star of Rockers, modeling in downtown Kingston, 1977.”
        Looking at pictures of you from this period, you looked more like the lead in a Zapatista porn than a CIA agent.
        Why, what does a CIA agent look like? [laughs] I had a Greek passport, which made me look even more suspicious. They took it away and kept me there for what seemed like an eternity. Another guy came to interrogate me, but that again led nowhere. It was 10 or 11 at night when suddenly this white guy appears and says, “Come with me,” leads me out of the room, puts me in a cab, and says, “Go, just go.” I said, “What about my passport?” And he said, “Get out of here, man.” So I left. I went to the house I was sharing and found them all there: my friend, Augustus Pablo, the whole gang. They were all younger than me. They were all scared and staring at me as if I had come back from the dead. They basically said, “Sorry, they’ll come to kill you tonight and we don’t want to stick around.”

        Were they teasing you?
        No, they weren’t. Stuff like that happened all the time.

        This is a completely different picture of Jamaica than the one you present in Rockers.
        There was this idea that everything was going swell, because of Bob Marley’s success. Even for reggae, the reality was different—much harsher. And harsher still for a white guy in the middle of it. I lived there for a couple years before we started shooting. Those Jamaicans living in the ghettoes of Kingston were innocent people in their everyday lives and this is exactly what I wanted to capture in the film—a more realistic picture of who they were, or who they really wanted to be. Something like Robin Hood. Jamaica was a fantasy world where reality as we knew it could not exist.

        How do you mean?
        They lived in a setting that cut them off from the real world. You had nowhere to go; there was seldom someone you could call “Dad.” There were simply men who had relationships with women. There was no real family structure. In most cases, children were not acknowledged, and though you would grow up with a mother, there was nothing there to support you in any way, because it was really tough. It was practically impossible for anything to come out of that situation apart from a tolerance for violence, a gang mentality among young kids as everyone else struggled to eke out a living. But it’s important to realize that a great many people managed to live under these conditions peacefully and productively. This was something.

        How did Jamaica feel to someone from Andros and New York?
        Really exotic. An unusual experience.

        Even more unusual than New York? You’re from this tiny village in Greece.
        Look, I left Andros for Athens at age 17 from this very house, from this very table we are sitting around right now. I was lucky enough to have a very open-minded father who advised me—without pressuring me—to go to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the world’s top design schools.

        When was this?
        This was between 1964 and 1968—the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll era. After school I returned to Greece during the junta, to serve in the military. In the meantime I married Eugenie—this year we celebrate 39 years of marriage. After my discharge from the army we went to Minnesota and after that we packed up and went to New York. We became bohemians and lived in an abandoned building in Tribeca.

        How did you earn a living?
        I worked various freelance jobs. Eugenie worked in the textile industry as a designer. Basically, I kept myself busy repairing the building we lived in and would work odd jobs. I worked as a photographer, until New York magazine commissioned me to do a shoot of a young Jamaican at the Tropical Club, a seedy club in Brooklyn. I went there and suddenly Augustus Pablo appeared playing a melodica. I was dumbfounded. He was also the first one I met.

        “It was the summer of 1977 and we were shooting Rockers in St. Ann’s, on the north side of Jamaica. The actors and the crew carried supplies and equipment through the hills to shoot a scene in a ganja field.”
        At that point, what did you know about reggae?
        I heard Bob Marley for the first time while he was with the Wailers in 1974, totally by fluke. Eugenie and I were on our way to Minnesota and we stopped for a few days to see a friend in Chicago. One night she said, “Let’s go to a club with interesting music,” and it was Bob Marley. It was an unbelievable gig.

        What sort of music were you into back then?
        Many things. Mainly rock music and R&B. My wife had two brothers who played the guitar. And lots of blues, of course. If my heart had only room for one kind of music, it would have to be the blues. Everything began in a bizarre sort of way through my love for rebetika.

        Rebetika being a Greek form of the blues.
        What happened with rebetika and the blues happened with Bob Marley’s music as well. Rocksteady and ska were already around, but when I heard Augustus Pablo I realized that it was something very profound, something over and above what you heard. Reggae had musical depth and a great variety of sounds. If you look at reggae between the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, you won’t believe that it was all done by the same 20-odd people in the Kingston studios. Literally. All these genres emerged simultaneously and from the same musicians—ska, rocksteady, reggae, rocker, the dubs.

        They were one and the same?
        The people who began ska also began reggae: no more than two or three drummers, guitarists, and bassists. The quality of the singers became crucial, their ability to inspire the musicians. The sound was there, and the only thing missing were the little 45 rpms that had to be cut as quickly as possible—in two hours, even in a half hour—so that costs were kept at a minimum. The recordings would be done in rudimentary studios, the new tracks played in big outdoor dance sessions, over the weekends, traveling with vans chock-full of amps and massive speakers. This was music intended for immediate consumption. Later they began recording 45s on the spot and selling them in just a few shacks or shops. That’s how it was. And they sold more in the UK and fewer in the US.

        The UK was always more open to reggae.
        Yes, the fact that Jamaica was a British colony was a factor in this. It was easier for a Jamaican to go to England than to the US, because of passport and green-card issues. Also, they had absorbed reggae to a greater degree. Bands such as 2 Tone, the Selecter, and others were all very important. I also believe that punk music owes a lot to reggae. They had the same attitude. This was also the reason there were punk covers of reggae tracks.

        Was all this a strictly local Jamaican scene? Was it some sort of ghetto?
        Very localized. You could call it a ghetto, but it wasn’t really. Ghettos in Jamaica were neighborhoods of blocks built around courtyards, like Athens in the 20s and 30s or like African villages. In them were social structures with a life of their own that functioned separately from the broader context, which was the government, the police, the army, and the justice system. The local radio stations seldom played any reggae. They played soul and disco, as did the clubs.

        They didn’t support their own scene?
        It wasn’t their own scene, because no one made any money from it. Only a few guys who owned the sound systems made any money. In fact, only two people were behind most of the first releases: Coxton Dodd [of the Studio One label] and Duke Reid [of the Treasure Isle label]. When the genre started gaining ground internationally, things began to change, and by the mid-70s reggae as we knew it disappeared. It was impossible for the same people to be in so many bands. There were only enough musicians for five or six bands. Bob Marley took with him some of the best. The others started moving to New York and London. By the end of the 70s, there was no one left. You could say that it all ended with the One Love Peace Concert in 1978.

        “This area, known as ‘Idlers’ Rest,’ was around the corner from Randy’s Record Shop. Musicians, singers, and would-be singers would loaf about listening to the newest 45s spin, waiting to be called in for a session.”
        It’s interesting that Rockers is missing many of the typical Jamaican ingredients, such as the palm trees and the beaches. Why is that?
        It’s done on purpose. My aim in the film was very simple: From the beginning I thought of it as a song, and so the issue was not what to include, but what I would leave out. I had to choose. You can’t fit everything in a film. My grandmother, who had never gone to school and was a wonderful woman, would watch me draw when I was young and say, “This is too loaded,” if I had put in too many elements. In my case, I tried to stay within a certain framework and I did not see myself as a filmmaker, but generally as an artist.

        Were you confident your movie would be a success?
        I felt that the film was going to be exceptional, but at the same time my mind was fixed on completing it. Anything could happen during the shoot, which could make the whole project go up in flames.

        More: http://www.vice.com/read/love-and-rockers-305-v17n1
        Tuffy and I wrote nn here of the excluding nature of the era as white people were called CIA agents.
        It was a time when our government behaved like prepubescent teenagers. With name calling as political debate.
        again confirmation
        What nonsense! How can you have a revolution without shooting people ? Lenin 26th October 1917...
        If Christians go to heaven, I do not want to go to Heaven: Hatuey. 2/02/1512

        Comment

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