John Wilcock Quizzes a Schlockmeister
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
December 5, 1956, Vol. II, No. 6
Rock, Rocker, Rockest
By John Wilcock
The man at your left below is WINS disc jockey Alan Freed, the one on the right is guitarist Chuck Berry, and except for their participation in a movie called "Rock, Rock, Rock" -- the subject of today's little essay -- this story doesn't concern either of them.
It does, however, concern Milton Subotsky, an amiable young Village writer who doctored up one of his old television scripts, hired every rock-'n'-roll group in sight, shot the movie in 10 days, persuaded Freed to plug it over his radio show, and today is awaiting the reaction from 70 New York City movie theaters (including Loew's Sheridan, in the Village) where it opened this morning.
"I had always wanted to be a songwriter," says Subotsky, "so I turned out nine songs for this movie, and I have high hopes for them. I can't read music, so I sung them to a friend of mine who laboriously found the notes on his trumpet and wrote them down."
Subotsky, a handsome looking guy of 35, called up from his Grove Street apartment a few days ago to predict that the movie (which cost Distributors Corporation of America, its financiers, about $130,000) would make "about a million bucks," and was being privately screened that night to a select audience of teenagers.
At the screening I found the young audience to be surprisingly well-behaved. "Well, this is like a Royal Command Performance to them," Subotsky explained knowledgeably, "but don't think they're not enjoying it just the same. At the moment they're just jumping inwardly, but most of them will probably go and see it again when it opens locally, and then maybe some of them will squeal.
"I don't have anything against squealing. As a matter of fact, rock 'n roll is about the only music left that generates excitement. A lot of critics take it much too seriously: when Elvis winks at the kids and the kids scream in reply, it's really all part of one big joke. But the adults don't understand this.
"Joke?" I said.
"Yes," Subotsky repeated. "The lyrics of some rock-'n-roll songs are really quite funny. Berry has one called 'Too Much Monkey Business,' for example, which goes something like this:
Workin' in the filling station, too many tasks, Check the tire, check the oil, Wipe the glass, dollar gas...
"'Too much monkey business.' For the singer that's what life is all about. And then you take that song 'Green Door' -- it's psychological in its implications, almost a chrystalization of all the frustrations of our time."
"And what about 'Rock, Rock, Rock?'" I asked.
Subotsky's eyes went dreamy. "Well, the story's nothing to shout about," he said, "but I think the kids'll really dig that music."
He was tapping his foot as I left.
[Subotsky (1921-1991) went on to produce dozens of schlocky films, including The World of Abbott and Costello (1965), Dr. Who and the Daleks (starring Peter Cushing, 1965), Scream and Scream Again (starring Vincent Price, 1970), Tales from the Crypt (1972), At the Earth's Core (1976), Maximum Overdrive (1986), and The Lawnmower Man (1992). John Wilcock, meanwhile, is still going strong at ojaiorange.com]
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.