Exploiting the Archives Week: Corey Feldman & The Angels' Live Concert Report: Beyond Self-Parody, Beyond Irony and Into The Corey Zone
Nathan Rabin's Happy Place (or rather, Nathan Rabin) is taking the week between Christmas and New Year's Off to prevent him from going insane (seriously, dude is on the edge! Writing about himself in the third person and everything). So the next week will be Exploiting the Archives week, where we'll be running some of our favorite pieces from the year that was
I wrote about Corey Feldman’s solo albums for My World of Flops last year because I’m obsessed with Feldman, of course, and while the rational part of me totally understood that these albums existed, and that it’s actually not that rare for successful actors to try to branch off into music, part of me nevertheless genuinely suspected that Feldman’s solo albums did not exist, and were just figments of Feldman’s fractured, vivid imagination and egomania.
I mean, who in their right mind would go to Amazon and seek out the new Corey Feldman CD? Who was checking for Corey Feldman’s next album? It seemed inconceivable to me. And when I read on Feldman’s poignant IndieGoGo page about the electric connection Feldman felt with crowds at his sold-out, ecstatically received live shows, and how he knew that songs worked despite the universe aggressively ignoring his musical output because he would be at concerts and see people losing their shit over his music, I just felt sad that Feldman was deluding himself so dramatically. Wasn't being famous and a movie star enough?
Surely, this theoretical live musical career Feldman boasted of so poignantly had to be a total fiction, right? A has-been’s myopic fantasy? It was one thing for Feldman to record music despite the music industry’s complete rejection of him. But for him to take his sad little ditties to the public on the road and ask them to go nuts over songs like “Lethal Lolita” in a live setting? That was craziness. And Corey Feldman was anything but crazy. No wait, I got that wrong. Corey Feldman is nothing but crazy. And I mean that in the nicest, most flattering way.
Thankfully, if Corey Feldman month has proven anything, it’s that I am wrong most of the time. I just came from a Corey Feldman & The Angels concert in the “Heaven” room (how conceptually appropriate!) of Kenny’s Alley here in downtown Atlanta where I saw a room full of hundreds of genuine human beings, only some of whom looked like they belonged at a Junior prom in 1989, rock out to, and with, Corey Feldman & The Angels for over two hours.
It was a surreal experience. It was as if I exited the real world before I stepped into the venue and entered some weird fantasy world where Feldman isn’t a widely mocked former child star notorious for his personal eccentricities and ridiculous music, but rather a bona fide icon whose music career is not some weird vanity sideline that accidentally went viral due to its awfulness but rather half of an incredible career that has made Feldman not just a performer but a legend.
It was like I stepped out of reality for a little over two hours and into Feldman’s private dream world, where he’s some over-the-top, utterly unself-conscious combination of Michael Jackson, Prince, Elvis, David Lee Roth, Jim Morrison, Johnny Carson and a benign cult leader onstage and crowds accept him as a musician and a pop star, and not just a dude who somehow never seems to have made the leap from “aspiring musician” to “actual musician” over the course of over a quarter century of making music.
When I talk about Corey Feldman to my wife, something i try to do very sparingly, on account of I love her and want our marriage to last, (needless to say, she did not accompany to the show) I can sense her eyes glaze over at the mere mention of “Corey." So it was oddly validating to suddenly find myself in an a bizarro world where people were squealing with excitement over seeing Corey Feldman spend two hours paying loving, reverent tribute to the magic and the wonder and the excitement that is Corey Feldman, producer, director, actor, icon and choreographer.
Feldman promised a show that would be infinitely more than just a show: it would be a journey through time and the interconnected worlds of Corey Feldman's movies and Corey Feldman's music, a kaleidoscopic pop-culture voyage through decades upon decades of pure show-biz cheese.
A pair of fans of mine spotted me while I milled around the venue, looking for a way to kill a few hours before Feldman came onstage. We had an instant connection rooted in our shared affection for the bizarre, disreputable and obsessive. It was a good omen that I found misfits I connected with instantly over our half-ironic, half-sincere fascination with Feldman as a pop icon and celebrity but specifically as a very strange musician with a very odd career that we were about to experience live.
The performance opened with a hype reel of sorts for Feldman that trumpeted accomplishments at a machine-gun rate seemingly designed to disorient you into not questioning how many of the stated accomplishments are genuine, and how many are fake, like his claim of multiple top 40 singles and 10 soundtrack hits (what does that even mean?)
In a giddy, ebullient flurry, the video trumpets Feldman’s “original dance moves.” Now, as someone who has watched with both morbid fascination and genuine enjoyment at Feldman’s dancing, live, in films and on Youtube, “original” is the last word I would use to describe it.
In fact, the video at one point plugs “The Michael Jackson impersonation that started it all” (“it all” apparently being “people making fun of Corey Feldman for dressing and dancing like Michael Jackson”) before bragging that Feldman had worked with luminaries including, “Ringo Starr, Kurupt and many more.”
I wish the video had gone slower, or that I could have taped it, because it was the most screamingly hyperbolic, over-hyped spiel imaginable. It made the Gathering infomercials seem like works of Bressonian restraint by comparison. "Achievements" like "First man to give birth" and "won the World Series three years in a row single-handedly" and "dunked a basketball after climbing Mount Everest by himself" would not have seemed out of place among Corey's list of ostensible accomplishments.
On Sunday night’s performance, which stretched from before ten o clock to after midnight, Feldman primarily paid tribute to the music of Corey Feldman, and the motion pictures of Corey Feldman, and music from the motion pictures of Corey Feldman, and also the talent and musicianship and nubile beauty of Corey’s Angels, all of whom seemed to be around twenty or twenty-one and maybe lucky to have Feldman in their life and careers? Or maybe not? Oh, and the one in the skimpiest lingerie, who seemed to do the least, was also apparently Feldman’s wife, AKA his Maingel.
But the show was also somehow a tribute to all of rock and roll, and all its heroes, like The Beatles (Corey covered “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road”) and Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, who were covered by Corey’s Angels in an early move indicating both that the night would be full of surprises and also that Feldman would make sure everyone was familiar with everything he and his band did.
The five Angels each got to sing a song, including such beloved Gen-X chestnuts as the Cranberries’ “Zombie” to Cyndi Lauper’s "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough” to, oddly enough, the second cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited” of the evening, as an opening band with a female lead singer covered it earlier. These performances, which had the weirdly innocent air of a dad pushing his kids in front of audiences and gushing about how great they are, felt like a goofy retro karaoke party more than a showcase of musicianship, but it also aded to the fun of the evening.
Feldman came on stage in off-brand Michael Jackson gear, sporting the first of what had to be ten different outfits, if not more, many of which happened to look suspiciously the same. He had two black gloves, for example, but like the late King of Pop, Feldman is clearly a man who buys sequins by the ton and affixes them to every item of clothing, whether it makes sense to or not. That’s except for during the several songs where he performed without a shirt, including a melodramatic, goth cover of “Cry Little Sister” from The Lost Boys soundtrack that got a rapturous response, particularly from the ladies .
It didn’t matter to Feldman that he didn’t record the song originally. If a song was even tangentially related to him, it belonged to him. Feldman paid tribute to Michael Jackson, of course, but he also took to the drums while an Angel crooned “Stand By Me” in tribute to the Feldman coming-of-age classic of the same name. If Feldman is frustrated that his film career and personal life completely overshadow his film career, that did not keep him from relentlessly connecting his songs to the movies that he made and the bottomless ocean of cheap yet powerful adolescent nostalgia that united the performer and the crowd.
Feldman was shameless and relentless in piggy-backing on his fans’ affection for, say, Dream A Little Dream and even Dream A Little Dream 2, to sell a set that seemed to be at least half covers, yet featured a number of Feldman compositions from through the decades that I was both mortified and oddly impressed to discover I recognized from my time writing about Feldman’s albums for My World of Flops. As you might imagine, I didn’t listen to them a whole lot.
I did not, for example, listen to Feldman’s most recent double-disc opus, Angelic 2 the Core dozens of times, for example, before determining that it was crazy and audacious and memorable enough to merit a weak Secret Success, a judgment I’m sure the A.V Club as an institution stands by.
Yet Feldman’s songs permeated my consciousness enough that I found myself recognizing just about every original he played and I had to say that they really did kind of work in concert even though Feldman sounds like he just swallowed a plate full of cigars and breathes asbestos. He isn’t much of a singer with a throaty, off-key rasp he keeps pushing beyond its breaking point, yet like a true showman, he sold this dodgy material through sweaty determination and delusional belief in himself. Feldman seems to think that if he just believes in himself and tries hard enough, he can will himself into being a rock star. And on Sunday night it sure seemed like he succeeded.
In his own mind and at the concert, Feldman clearly sees himself not just as a a man obscenely influenced by Michael Jackson but also as Jackson’s creative heir, a consummate entertainer whose constantly changing costumes tended to owe an awful lot to the King of Pop. Feldman danced to “Beat It” (like Michael Jackson, funnily enough) and then led the crowd in an emotional sing-along to “Man in the Mirror.”
This was not a conventional rock and roll show. This was more like a Branson/Vegas/Reno extravaganza, Corey Feldman’s Sunny Rock and Movie Sexy Good Time Hour (or two hours, as it turned out) featuring Feldman’s Angels and a cameo from Feldman’s long-ago Gremlins and Round Trip to Heaven costar Zack Galligan.
Corey’s Angels were at once one of the most immediately appealing elements of the show and a sideshow and distraction. Acting as a leering ringmaster, as well as the main attraction, Feldman was constantly praising his musician’s chops, calling them the most talented all female band on the planet yet he also not surprisingly could not stop sexualizing them, although their outfits—skimpy white lingerie with rave-style glow-up wings and halos—did the vast majority of the sexualizing.
Having just watched a series of sad Feldman sex comedies from the grim years, I found it adorable that decades after National Lampoon’s Last Resort and Busted, Feldman is still sticking to the formula of goofball comedy and gratuitous T&A. Of course the whole point of Corey’s Angels is that they’ve got the goods, musically speaking, and aren’t just eye candy, but Feldman never let the audience forget that young, impressionable women he picked for their conventional bombshell looks as well as their talent possessed all kinds of sex appeal in addition to mastering their instruments.
And, in the kind of weird quirk that makes Feldman such a weirdly enduring, fascinating cult figure, Feldman did not relentlessly sexualize his back-up band without also relentlessly sexualizing himself. In Coreyography Feldman references having liposuction done on his abdomen. That might seem incredibly vain and specific but considering how much time the forty-six year old father spends onstage with his shirt off, he gets his money’s worth.
That’s one of the other crazy things about Feldman: most dudes rebel against the “sex symbol” label as soon as they can, but Feldman continues to cling to it deep into middle age, a good three decades after he won teenybopper hearts in tandem with his partner in mischief, movies and horrific formative trauma Corey Haim in films like License to Drive.
Feldman wants to give the ladies a little something to ogle, with the Angels playing that role for men. I am a husband so I do not think of any women other than my wife in a sexual way, but I’m also a heterosexual man so it’s a tribute to Feldman’s “looky me!” magnetism that I spent nearly the entire show gawking at Feldman rather than the nearly naked young women behind him.
In a concert that was excessive, pandering and self-indulgent in every sense, Feldman ventured far beyond the hits and the movies everyone knows. As someone convinced he’s the only person who has ever seen Dream A Little Dream 2 and Rock ’n’ Roll High School Forever, it was absolutely surreal to see clips from Dream A Little Dream 2 on the video screen that competed with a low-budget but fun light show, the Angels’ curves and Feldman’s wonderfully unselfconscious self-parody for the audience’s attention.
When I stumbled into Corey World, I descended into a curious zone where Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever wasn't just acknowledged, but celebrated with a three-song set of classics from the direct-to-video sequel. I imagine Paul McCartney doesn't perform as many songs from Sgt. Pepper as Feldman does from Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever, and that album has a slightly better reputation than the Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever soundtrack.
Having just re-read Coreyography I got a little choked up when Feldman performed his painfully sincere and just plain painful tribute to Corey Haim, “Remember 222.” Feldman’s stage banter was pure smarm. He was every phony rock and roll star pandering shamelessly to the crowd with all the sincerity of a game show host who’s also a used car salesman and a politician, but there was something oddly honest, even ingratiating about his love of glib show-business banter.
Feldman is, like the slightly more talented Sammy Davis Jr, who also wrote a powerfully honest and confessional memoir in Yes I Can, an honest fake, a show-business lifer who comes by his phoniness honestly. It’s in his blood. He is an entertainer and on Sunday night in Atlanta, that’s what he did: he gave people a spirited good time using everything at his disposal and every last trick he’s picked up from four decades in the biz.
The evening was a testament to the Feld-Man’s resilience. Around the time he performed “Go For It” as the encore, Feldman gave a motivational speech about how you can accomplish everything if you believe in yourself and follow your dreams. It was pure hokum, but like the rest of the evening, it was unexpectedly poignant, ingratiating hokum, because Feldman clearly brings that belief and optimism to everything he does, even when it makes him seem ridiculous or crazy. On Sunday night despite an awful voice, an amateurish set of songs and a backing band of over-sexualized semi-runaways, Feldman put on a hell of an entertaining rock and roll show, and if it happened to feel as much like a variety show or an eccentric cult figure’s tribute to himself, that only added to the homemade, oddball, campy charm.
I’m really glad I took a chance and went for it with this show and this month. We’ve only got two more big pieces left in Corey Feldman Month, and I can say confidently that it’s already one of my all-time favorite projects and something I hope will help set the tone for this site in the months and years ahead. Incidentally, Feldman only managed to raise $14,982 for his Kickstarter despite his devoted fanbase. I’ve been lucky so far with Patreon. It would be a trip if I somehow managed to make more money via crowd-funding by writing about Feldman for this site than he did for his dream project.
God bless you, Corey Feldman. You are a magnificent weirdo and it has been a perverse pleasure rambling through your improbable history and even more improbable present.
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