THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY"
Even if you don't know the name Clarence Reid, you know his music, whether you realize it or not. The Miami musician wrote hundreds of songs, including Top 10 hits for Sam & Dave, Gwen McCrae, and KC & the Sunshine Band. After a brief stint recording under his own name, Reid made the decision, in 1965, to do something different. Using the stage name Blowfly, he recorded what is believed to be the world's first rap song, “Rap Dirty.” It was an outrageous, X-rated tune that wowed listeners and set Reid on a decades-long career recording and performing as his alter ego. Reid is now the subject of a documentary called The Weird World of Blowfly.
The film, directed by Jonathan Furmanski, gives us some basic history of the man behind the music. Born in 1939, Reid worked in the cotton fields of Georgia, where he would amuse his white employers by making up dirty lyrics to their favorite songs. He thought it would piss them off; in reality, they loved it. At age 13, he moved with his mother to Miami, where a few years later he found his way onto the local music scene, eventually landing a gig at TK Records. Many hit songs were written and produced there, with Reid essentially creating what became known as the “Miami Sound.” For fun, he drew on his experiences in the cotton fields to create Blowfly, who released a string of ultra-raunchy “party albums” that achieved great success.
That sounds like the recipe for a success story, and in many ways it is. It's also the setup for a comeback story. In 2003, broke and in desperate need of money, Reid sold all his royalties for next to nothing, only to then see his songs sampled by artists like Ice Cube and Beyonce (whose “Upgrade U” samples the Reid-penned “Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do”). Those royalties could have netted him millions. The film follows Reid as he attempts to mount a return to the limelight, all of it orchestrated by his manager/drummer, Tom Bowker. As Blowfly, Reid does a tour of West Coast clubs, opens for a rock band in Germany (where the audience boos and throws things at the stage), and teams up with an avant garde electronic music performer named Otto Van Schirach for horror-themed ditties such as “Mummy Fucker.”
Even pushing 70 years of age, Reid does not appear to have lost his edge. He still gets up on stage and belts out some of the most profane lyrics you will ever hear. He also continues to perform X-rated parodies, turning “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash into “Should I Fuck That Big Fat Ho?” (The German crowds like that one much more than his originals.) Reid maintains his feistiness off-stage too, showing a temperamental side that frequently creates clashes with Bowker. At one point, Reid is infuriated when his manager wants to set a box of pizza on a bench because “people put their asses on that.” It is hard to say who wants this comeback more. Bowker, who undoubtedly does right by his client, seems to understand the legacy of Blowfly and wants to be part of setting the record straight. Reid appears to want the credit he thinks he deserves for spawning rap music. Furmanski effectively makes his camera a fly on the wall, capturing the events of a tour that has great stakes for both men.
The film also includes interview clips with Reid's children, his ex-wife, and some of the famous musicians he inspired, including Ice T, Chuck D, and Fishbone's Norwood Fisher. The best parts, though, are the many scenes with the man himself. Reid is a mass of contradictions. His lyrics are vulgar, misogynist, and homophobic, yet he delivers them in such a playful way that they don't really offend. He is a black man who claims to hate black people. He believes in God, yet says he doesn't want to go to Heaven after he dies because it sounds “boring.” You are not likely to meet a more intriguing, unusual person in any other documentary you'll see this year.
The Weird World of Blowfly works as an examination of an important-but-unsung figure in the music industry, yet it works just as well as a portrait of an artist. One senses that Blowfly provided the opportunity for Clarence Reid to say all the things he wanted to say but felt he couldn't express in a conventional sense. Onstage, with his costume and his mask on, he felt the liberation to let it all out. He's still feeling it. Reid is an extraordinarily compelling individual, and The Weird World of Blowfly is a marvelous testament to both his mainstream and his alternative contributions.
To find out more about the film, including theatrical screenings and DVD release information, please visit the official website.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Weird World of Blowfly is unrated but contains profanity/profane lyrics, and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.