Last Days Here

Last Days Here

Pentagram in the 80s as seen in LAST DAYS HERE, a film by Don Argott and Damien Fenton. Photo © Jeff Lee. A Sundance Selects Release.

Last Days Here

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Last Days Here (2011/2012)

Opened: 03/02/2012 Limited

Limited03/02/2012
IFC Center03/02/2012 - 03/08/20127 days
DVD07/31/2012

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

Synopsis

LAST DAYS HERE, the new documentary from Don Argott and Demian Fenton (THE ART OF THE STEAL, ROCK SCHOOL), is a raw, yet unexpectedly touching chronicle of cult metal legend Bobby Liebling's bid to resurrect his life and career after decades wasting away in his parents' basement.

Bobby Liebling made his mark in the '70s as the outrageous frontman of Pentagram, a "street" Black Sabbath whose heavy metal riffs once blew audiences' minds. But various acts of self-destruction, multiple band break-ups and botched record deals eventually condemned his music to obscurity. Now in his 50's, wasted by hardcore drug use and living on the charity of his ever-patient mother and father (a former Nixon advisor), Bobby's music is finally discovered by the heavy metal underground. With the help of fan-turned-manager Sean "Pellet" Pelletier, Bobby struggles to overcome years of addiction, loneliness and broken dreams to get back on stage again. For over three years filmmakers (and metal musicians) Argott and Fenton are witnesses to his unbelievable journey, following the triumphs and downfalls of this underground icon at the crossroads of life and death.

Director's Statement

Bobby Liebling's lifestyle is legendary in the heavy metal underground. His music is respected across genres. To many he embodies rock n' roll. For years we had heard the tales: he died on stage and was revived in the dressing room; his arms were to be amputated because he shot massive amounts of heroin; he botched a huge recording contract that would have made Pentagram a household name.

When an opportunity arose to shoot some tape of the notorious rocker, we jumped at the chance. Artists who lead extreme lifestyles intrigue many of us. To commit oneself so fully to such destructive behavior seems to lend a certain amount of credibility to their work. This is certainly true within the world of rock n' roll. In Bobby's case we wondered: was it sincerity or circumstance? At 50 some years old, was he a rock n' roll soldier with more music to offer or was he just too far gone to make a life for himself?

We had seen pictures of the twenty-something madman with the microphone. We had watched the grainy VHS footage of the possessed performer beaming with confidence. When we met Bobby for the first time, we were introduced to a tired old man with one foot in the grave. Picture Keith Richards if he had never made a dime, but partied just as hard. We spent the day with him holed up in his room as he smoked crack, listened to music and pretty much divulged his entire life story -- warts and all. Bobby's past is heartbreaking, but he has some sort of enigmatic quality that we were all drawn to. Talking on the ride home, we didn't think there was enough going on to sustain a feature-length documentary. Frankly we were all quite shocked that Bobby was still alive. A few weeks had gone by and Pellet called saying that Bobby was getting himself together to play a show. It was almost unimaginable that he could muster the strength to do anything. We picked up the camera and followed him. For the first year it went pretty much like that, whenever things started to happen, we'd pick up the camera and shoot. Bobby's life was so chaotic we just held on and went along for the ride. Hundreds of hours of footage and four years later, here we are. It was hard at times to believe what had transpired. We would often say that if you scripted this story, no one would believe it.

Although we love heavy metal, we never set out to make a "rock doc." Bobby's tale is full of universal themes that will resonate with all types of people, not just music fans. In this age of topic-based and celebrity-driven documentaries, we were excited to work on a low-key character piece. The real story has always been Bobby's journey. The baby boomers that watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show are now pushing 60 years old. The rockers who were there from the beginning have either made it happen, or given up ages ago. Bobby is just getting started.

-- Don Argott and Demian Fenton, Directors

About the Filmmakers

Don Argott (Director)

Don Argott is a cinematographer, producer and director. Originally from northern New Jersey, he was graduated from the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 1994. Upon graduation, Argott opened and co-owned Mini Mace Pro Pictures, where he worked on countless corporate and commercial videos, and short films as a DP and director. He also worked as a DP/camera op for FOX Sports, ESPN, NBC and TLC/Discovery.

In 2002, Argott parted ways with his business partner, and opened up 9.14 Pictures with producer Sheena M. Joyce. ROCK SCHOOL, the company's first feature-length documentary, premiered at the Los Angles Film Festival in 2004, and was acquired by Newmarket Films/Picturehouse Films. It was extremely well received on the festival circuit, screening at Sundance and South by Southwest, and given rave reviews by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Ebert & Roeper. ROCK SCHOOL was released worldwide theatrically in June 2005, on DVD in September 2005, and appeared on A&E Television in 2006.

TWO DAYS IN APRIL, 9.14's second feature-length documentary, followed four college football players as they entered the NFL Draft. The film was commissioned by Red Envelope Productions (the distribution arm of Netflix), and is currently available on Netflix. It aired on the Documentary Channel, and is available on DVD.

Their last film, THE ART OF THE STEAL, chronicled the long struggle for control over the $30 billion dollar Barnes collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art. It was acquired by IFC Films at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and was named one of the best documentaries of 2010 by Roger Ebert.

Argott currently resides in Philadelphia with his fiancee, Sheena Joyce, and their five cats, Mingus, George, Blue, Parker and Whiskers.

Demian Fenton (Director)

Demian Fenton has been an editor for fourteen years, beginning his career upon graduation from Penn State University. In 2003, Fenton joined 9.14 Pictures, and edited their first feature-length documentary, ROCK SCHOOL. Acquired by Newmarket Films/Picturehouse Films, it was extremely well received on the festival circuit, screening at Sundance and SXSW, and given rave reviews by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Ebert & Roeper. ROCK SCHOOL was released worldwide theatrically in June 2005, on DVD in September 2005, and on A&E Television in 2006.

Fenton continued his work with 9.14 Pictures, next editing TWO DAYS IN APRIL, their second feature-length documentary, which followed four college football players as they entered the NFL Draft. The film was commissioned by Red Envelope Productions (the distribution arm of Netflix), and is currently available on Netflix. It aired on the Documentary Channel, and will be available in retail stores for purchase.

Fenton also edited the critically acclaimed documentary, THE ART OF THE STEAL, which chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of post impressionist and modern art, valued at more than $30 billion. The film was acquired by IFC Films at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and was named one of the best documentaries of 2010 by Roger Ebert.

In addition to Fenton's film career, he has been in many heavy metal and hard rock bands. He loves cats, old vinyl, and working on his beat up row home in Philadelphia.

Sheena M. Joyce (Producer)

Sheena M. Joyce graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a BA in English in 1998. Upon graduation, Joyce began her film career as an employee of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, marketing the area to the production industry for almost five years. In 2002, she formed 9.14 Pictures with director Don Argott.

ROCK SCHOOL, the company's first feature-length documentary, premiered at the Los Angles Film Festival in 2004, and was acquired by Newmarket Films/Picturehouse Films. It was extremely well received on the festival circuit, screening at Sundance and SXSW, and given rave reviews by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Ebert & Roeper. ROCK SCHOOL was released worldwide theatrically in June 2005, on DVD in September 2005, and on A&E Television in 2006.

TWO DAYS IN APRIL, 9.14's second feature-length documentary, followed four college football players as they entered the NFL Draft. The film was commissioned by Red Envelope Productions (the distribution arm of Netflix), and is currently available on Netflix. It aired on the Documentary Channel, and will be available in retail stores for purchase.

9.14 also does a great deal of work in the music industry, creating behind-the-scenes DVDs and EPKs for clients like Sony Music, working with such artists as Michael Jackson, Ozzy Osbourne, and Neil Diamond. They also recently completed behind-the-scenes specials for Nickelodeon with the Naked Brothers Band and Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly.

Most recently, Sheena produced the feature-length documentary, THE ART OF THE STEAL. The film chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of post impressionist and modern art, valued at more than $30 billion. The film was acquired by IFC Films at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and was named one of the best documentaries of 2010 by Roger Ebert.

About Bobby Liebling and Pentagram

Bobby Liebling and Pentagram have been churning out widely admired hard rock/doom metal for over four decades. Within its first decade, this Washington, DC band was largely regarded as having pioneered not one, but two subgenres of hard rock. At the onset of the 1970's, they helped procreate a behemoth called "Heavy Metal." Nine years later, they'd be planting the dark seed of what would grow to be known as "Doom." 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of this American treasure and sees the release of their new album, "Last Rites," on Metal Blade Records.

When asked about his old band's beginnings, co-founder and drummer Geof O'Keefe recalls, "It was 40 years ago in the fall of 1971. I'm not sure if it was literally Halloween night but it was at least pretty close. I was sitting around with Bobby Liebling, my best friend from school. We were bemoaning our own bands, Shades of Darkness and Space Meat. We were also talking about how Blue Cheer had lost both their fire and guitarist Leigh Stephens. Cream had disbanded, and Hendrix had been dead a year." That night an idea that could change hard rock history dawned on them: They should join forces and start a new group playing all original music influenced by the heavier bands they both loved. Out of love and frustration, Pentagram was born.

Over the next few months, the line-up shifted a number of times. A few members came and went while the mainstays experimented and switched instruments until it felt right. On Christmas Day of that year, they had a rehearsal with the members that would become known as the "First Daze" line-up of the group. Primary songwriter Bobby Liebling on vocals, bassist turned- guitar hero Vincent McAllister on guitar, Geof O'Keefe dropping guitar and settling back in on drums, and former Space Meat bassist Greg Mayne laying down the low end.

During the next five whirlwind years, they rehearsed relentlessly and worked up over 80 original songs. Most were Liebling's, some O'Keefe's, a couple of co-writes between the two, and one with sometimes-second guitar player, the late Randy Palmer. The road wasn't an easy one. They ended up going through four management teams and four monikers in those five years. "Pentagram", suggested by Bobby's mother, was the first, but before they'd eventually settle on it, they'd go through Virgin Death, Macabre, and Wicked Angel. The band landed in the studio seven times and recorded a total of 22 tracks during this time. A handful of singles and several area gigs helped create quite a buzz for the boys locally though the majority of the masses remained unaware.

Unfortunately, substance abuse had started to take its toll, especially on its primary songwriter. Through the fog, opportunity did start to knock. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of KISS are two who actually stood at their very door. Sadly, this particular basement performance lacked the spark needed to start a fire. Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman, the producers/managers of Blue Oyster Cult were another couple of knocks. They sent these promising musicians on an all-expenses paid demo deal in New York City for Columbia Records. Krugman remembers: "They were like a street Black Sabbath. It was in between Led Zeppelin and The Sex Pistols and perfect for 1974. I was ready to seriously commit to them." Instead of being the ray of light they needed it was the shadow of darkness that would snuff out this historic line up. Unhappy with a vocal performance, Liebling wanted to re-record it. Krugman assured him that it could be fixed in post-production but that didn't sit well with the singer. With the mic still live, he called their manager into the studio and verbally beat Krugman and subsequently, their shot at stardom. Upon this vulgar display, Krugman and success walked out of the studio. Forced to take the long train ride back to Virginia, the disenchanted group would soon break up after arrival.

The core of this classic line-up, minus Liebling, would go on to form the rock band Sex. In 1978, as fate would have it, Liebling literally ran into Joe Hasselvander. They ended up talking and bonded over their love for heavy blues rock, especially the English band The Groundhogs. "I mentioned to him that I had a band but needed a singer," remembers Hasselvander. "He came to rehearsal and literally blew us away!" Liebling and his old band name were soon asked to join. Pentagram was reanimated in what would become known as the "High Voltage-era" of the band. Although this line-up would go virtually nowhere before disbanding in 1979, it was an essential step in the evolution of heavy metal. This was the seed that shortly mature into "doom metal."

A few years later, in 1981, Hasselvander's girlfriend had told him about her 18-year-old brother back in Tennessee. He was a young, heavy guitarist already recording his own music under the name of Death Row. On a family visit, Joe traveled to Knoxville to see if this fresh-out-of-high-school musician lived up to his reputation. "Back then Victor and Lee Abney, his bass player at the time, were already playing the Death Row material," remembers Hasselvander. "Victor had the songs and I was blown away by his playing. He had a sound that was a lot deeper than what Venom was doing and it was heavier and more Sabbath-y than what Witchfinder General was doing. In fact, I thought that it was better than Sabbath. He was Blue Cheer mixed with Black Sabbath!" Realizing that Tennessee wasn't the land of opportunity, Griffin soon moved up to Virginia to be closer to his new drummer. Naturally Liebling was asked to try out for these promising new heavies. He showed up to a rehearsal on Halloween night. "Joe told Victor that I was bad news because of all my drugging but after I auditioned, Victor wanted me in the band so I joined." Marty Swaney from the High Voltage-era ended up completing this new band who kept the name of Death Row.

Shortly before this period, while in high school, Griffin perfected the sound invention of "Drop B tuning." Of the technique, Griffin says, "I had been messing around with a drop D tuning which was uncommon at the time. I had been playing around with it and dropping it lower and discovered something when I got to B. If you play a fifth chord on the top two strings, it makes this octave. Now you have those seven-string guitars with the low B right on there. For the time though, I don't know of anyone who had done that." Little did he know at the time that he'd influence thousands of players in the future.

The band would coincidentally get signed to an unrelated label entitled Pentagram Records in 1985. Death Row recorded a demo in 1981 that was paid for by Hasselvander. The following year, Liebling would pay for another. Three years later these two demos would be put together to form the "s/t" Pentagram album. Merely days before the deal with the label was inked, Liebling had convinced Griffin that Pentagram was a better moniker since it was already well known in the area. 15 yrs into his career Bobby Liebling and Pentagram would finally release their debut album. A record that 19 years later would be inducted into Decibel Magazine's "Hall of Fame"! Sadly, Hasselvander was once again unhappy and restless. Before the debut's release and just after the second record was finished being recorded, he again parted ways and joined N.W.O.B.H.M. / pre-thrash luminaries, Raven. Stuart Rose soon joined Liebling, Griffin and Swaney as the band continued down its path to the top

The guys played as many headlining gigs in the area as they could and opened for nearly every major label metal band that toured through the DC area. Crowning this era was an infamous gig at the defunct yet historic CBGBs in New York City. As a result of these performances and the unique songs, a new deal with international indie label Napalm was on the table. The second album, "Day of Reckoning," finally hit the streets in 1987.

The same demons still haunted Bobby Liebling and his band, however. This coupled with virtually no label support soon drove them back into the grave. It wasn't until 1994 when the band would come back together and record for Peaceville records. Hasselvander jumped back on board. He, Liebling, Griffin and Swaney dug down deep into the vaults and pulled out a few old Liebling classics as well as the usual heavies Griffin had become known for. "Be Forewarned" came out to more fanfare than ever, even though it still kept them well beneath the mainstream. What Pentagram started to realize, however, is that they had influenced a handful of heavy bands that, like them, sacrificed speed for weight of the riff. Doom metal was in full swing with every one of its bands, Trouble, Candlemass, Cathedral and so on, sighting Pentagram, along with Black Sabbath, as their main influences. At this time Peaceville also obtained the rights to the band's first two albums and rereleased them to young doomsters hungry for the original recipe. It seemed that finally, Pentagram would get its due. Regrouped and re-charged these D.C. doom godfathers gave it another go. Unfortunately, once again, Hasselvander was once again fed-up with the madness and returned solely to Raven. Swaney soon too would become disheartened with the lack of tours, label support and usual rigors of a band living the "rock n roll lifestyle." He also soon departed the band for a second time. Despite all this, Liebling and Griffin forged ahead and recruited local drummer Gary Isom and Griffin's nephew, Greg Turley, on bass. Stardom was still far, far away however and within a few short years, Pentagram and main man Liebling once again teetered over an open grave.

Two years had passed when Hasselvander once again appeared before Liebling. Looking for an outlet outside of Raven to stretch out his doomed chops, he and Liebling patched up any old hostilities and decided to give it another go. After all, in 1998 this subgenre that they created was more popular than ever. Who better to play it then the pioneers? This time working as a duo, they banged off the rust on some old Liebling classics as well as writing some new numbers. Quickly snatched up by Italy's indie label Black Widow Records, the guys released "Review Your Choices." Although the offering received a lukewarm reception from the press, the team felt more appreciated than ever. Determined, they recorded another album the very next year under the same formula: old songs mixed with new numbers grizzled by experience. The result was a testament to rough life; a doomed existence lived by passionate hearts that continued to reach for an end. All instruments were played by Hasselvander and embellished by the voice of an old master. An audio homage to the den of iniquity Liebling spent most of his days in; "Sub-Basement" was released in early 2001, once again on Black Widow. Picked up by Southern Lord in the US under an exclusive distribution deal, the release promised to garner the band the home-country acceptance it deserved. Referred to by Liebling as "our 'Sgt. Peppers'" the press seemed to agree. A dispute between the two labels however would virtually kill the album as restocks never made it to the US. In the midst of these disheartening events, something brewed below the surface.

Also in 2000, while "Sub-Basement" was being recorded, a music journalist from Japan's EAT magazine tracked down Liebling for his column. His day job happened to be at Relapse Records helping with A/R and he was ecstatic about unearthing some of Liebling's virtually lost '70s recordings. As a result, in 2001, alongside "Sub-Basement," a collection of Liebling's best recorded 70's songs came out under the title of, "First Daze Here". As quoted by Liebling, "This album finally gave me the growth steps I needed to take in order to find a wider audience." More rock and hard rock than doom, the soulful songs reached across multiple sub-genres of metal and rock and roll. Accolades of these uncovered songs started pouring in from famous and infamous musicians alike as it went on to sell well over 10,000 copies. Covers would appear from respected contemporaries such as Hank III, Witchcraft and The Dead Weather. People such as Liam Gallagher from Oasis sited Liebling's 1972 song "Be Forewarned" in his top five songs of all time. Was the genius of Bobby Liebling and Pentagram finally becoming known the mainstream?

Empowered by the recent accolades, Liebling put together a few different line-ups in hopes of playing out live again. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Several, now infamous false starts went down. One of these would happen in 2001 at a doom fest in the DC area. After waiting over an hour to show up, Hasselvander, now on guitar, started the set without him. The band played nearly their entire set before Liebling showed up during the last song. An upset Hasselvander kicked Liebling in the shin and finished the song behind his amps. Another such event was at the Black Cat in DC in 2005. Liebling was indeed at the club on time but so was his drug dealer. He overdosed backstage and had to be revived by the paramedics. Friends dragged him up onto the stage where he collapsed on the drum riser during the first song. He died twice on the way to the hospital but luckily ended up pulling through.

Right around this time, 914 Pictures (THE ART OF THE STEAL, ROCK SCHOOL) started working on a documentary on Liebling's life. A labor of love, the film company worked slowly on the project in their spare time.

Another four years would go by as Liebling struggled against his demons. In his heart, he still wanted to create music. Encouraged by his friends and management, he got a band together again in early 2009. Focused and determined, once again the man was ready to show 'em how! Gary Isom (Spirit Caravan) joined on drums, Mark Ammen (Unorthodox) handled the bass while Liebling's self-described "secret weapon," Russ Strahan, burned bright on guitar. A triumphant comeback show was booked at the historic Webster Hall in New York City. It sold out as people traveled from around the world to show support. Highlighting songs from Pentagram's career, the gig went down in a blaze of glory. 914 Pictures was there to capture the madman back at the mic in this historic setting. The performance proved why this band was worthy of mentioning alongside Black Sabbath and Judas Priest as innovators of heavy metal. A similar show went down the next night in Baltimore, MD, proving to the world that Pentagram was back. A full US tour followed in that summer as well as festival appearances around the world. That fall, the band completed a full European tour alongside fellow doomsters Trouble. Although things seemed successful on the outside however, his demons still beat down Liebling's door. There were a few missteps in Europe, such as being mugged while scoring drugs in Germany and missing most of the gig, but overall the tour was a success.

Things never came easy for Liebling, however. Now married and seemingly focused, the scars of his rough life still haunted him. Band members again came and went. An ill-fated US tour went down with DC-area bass player, Johnny Wretched. Wretched, unable to play adequate solos, joined the band the night before they left for a US tour in January 2010. This newly crowned guitarist did the best he could but four Pentagram songs plus extended classic rock covers don't equal a full Pentagram show. It seemed once again that the Liebling would never garner the stardom that he so deserved. They say that it is at these times of deep darkness that the light ends up shining through the clouds brighter than ever. Liebling reached out to Victor Griffin who at the time was fronting Death Row alongside Hasselvander and Swaney. Missing his old band mate and mentor, and seeing how hard he was trying to fly straight, Griffin agreed to a small run of US dates in the spring of 2010. Joining them once again was Isom and Victor's nephew and Pentagram alumni, Greg Turley. The gigs were a welcome success and peaked on the main stage of the Maryland Death Fest in front of hundreds of eager fans. The gig was stellar and captured on film by a five-camera crew. This show and tour was such a hit that the band again started plodding another attempt at finally making it.

In the fall of 2010, a 3-album deal with the historic metal label Metal Blade Records was announced! "Last Rites," the album Liebling had been dreaming of for ages was announced for release in the spring of 2011. Also penned for release was a DVD featuring the entire set at 2010's Maryland Death Fest! To top it all off, a 40th Anniversary gig was scheduled for January of 2011. A mere 3 days out of the studio, this newly revitalized Pentagram would preview these new songs to the world.

 

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