You guys remember Enuff Z’Nuff, right? From MTV? Even a little? Anybody?.
For readers who weren’t paying serious attention to the heavy metal scene in 1989, Enuff Z’Nuff is a band out of Chicago that found nominal national success with the hair ballad “Fly High Michelle”, which was parodied to grand effect on Beavis & Butt-head. Experience the hippie-tinted video in its entirety below (you’ll be glad you did).
Yes, videos like “Fly High Michelle” may seem silly and painfully outdated from the vantage point of 2015, but I mean it when I say I love this band. When I was living in Los Angeles, my pal and fellow EZN superfan Laura Brown and I would catch them in concert whenever they played a date in Southern California. San Diego, Orange County, Redondo Beach – we’d be there, ready to rock. The group’s lead singer at the time, Donnie Vie, even played solo shows regularly at a venue on the Sunset Strip called The Cat Club, and Laura and I tried to go every time.
I was writing for Entertainment Today out of Burbank at the time, and I was able to convince my editors to assign me to write reviews of Enuff Z’Nuff concerts and eventually – this is what happens when you dream big, folks – they gave me the thumbs-up to publish a lengthy interview with the singer. Let’s just say that the night Laura and I met Donnie and his wife Joni at a bar in the valley actually called The Hole in the Wall for the interview was one for the record books. Next time we’re in the same room, buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the full story.
This is how Better Than Crazy comes in. My cousin Katherine and I had written a country song named “Occasional Raisin” that is performed by Aaron Daley and Amy Bruni at the mid-point of the movie. It’s a fantastic sequence in the film, and when the question of end credit music came up, I felt that it’d be appropriate to hearken back to its jangly musings about French fries and chocolate cake (more on that in a minute). At some point during post-production, the idea came to me in a flash: get Donnie Vie to sing a version.
As it turned out, Donnie was living in a trailer park in Las Vegas at the time, and after I’d tracked him down, described the project, and sent him footage of Amy and Aaron as well as some sheet music and a demo I’d recorded with Aaron in Thaddeus Homan’s studio, he agreed to do it. Needless to say, I was over the moon. He even stuck with me when I told him how puny our budget was – Donnie assured me that for a couple hundred bucks, he’d whip up some solo acoustic magic for us. It was a hair metal miracle.
Alas, Donnie stopped returning my phone calls for the better part of a month, and I had a sinking feeling we were in trouble. When I finally tracked him down, he admitted that the original $300 price tag would need to be increased to at least a few thousand, which was way out of our range. The fusion of a hair ballad cover of a country tonk as presented through the prism of an experimental arthouse comedy film would have to wait.
The song “Occasional Raisin” was born out of the strained relationship my cousin Katherine and I had with food and exercise. Living in our apartment on Van Ness in San Francisco, we had a Crunch gym a block and a half away, so at least three times a week, we’d catch a spin class or get some kind of general exercise, though coming up with excuses not to go was a task we were both excellent at perfecting. The class involving weight training was only offered on Wednesday nights, which was my evening to rehearse with Old Hangtown, so I thankfully missed that one whenever I could. I went a handful of times and referred to the class as “Squat and Cry”, which were the two things I remember doing most often when I’d participate. Man, I hated that class.
The flip side of this ambition for fitness took the form of chips and junk food, which was always a dangling carrot for us. Looking back at photos of us from our year as roomies, Katherine and I look pretty darned good – we didn’t go too crazy with the candy and chips – but maintaining body images we were happy with was a frequent struggle.
I’ll never forget the morning the idea for the song came to Katherine. I had come into the kitchen, desperate for coffee, and I saw Katherine, dressed for work, sipping her own cuppa on the couch, reading the latest issue of People magazine she subscribed to (she’s a devoted Us Weekly lady now). We didn’t exchange much – maybe a “Good morning, cousin” – instead sharing a quiet moment soaking in the sunny San Francisco morning that was upon us.
Suddenly, Katherine slammed her coffee down and threw the People magazine across the living room, before grabbing her purse and briefcase and storming out of the apartment. After such a maelstrom, I of course wondered what had offended Katherine so, and when I retrieved the magazine, I saw that she had been reading an interview with Elizabeth Hurley – one of those standard People chats where a celebrity is asked four or five questions.
The last probing query posed to Ms. Hurley was (and I paraphrase) about her snacking habits. She was notorious at the time for being incredibly skinny, and the journalist wanted to know what she would grab in her kitchen if a case of the munchies descended upon her in the middle of the afternoon. Elizabeth responded that if she was truly famished, maybe she’d splurge and have:
Two or three raisins.
Fast-forward a few days, and Katherine and I sit in our apartment, our gas fireplace burning away, drinking wine, and putting together the music and lyrics for “Occasional Raisin”. I knew it’d be a hit from the first line Katherine wrote: “Sittin’ on the porch, next to mama’s chocolate cake / I try to slow it down, but you can see how much I ate.”
And the chorus:
I gotta lighten up
Wanna bring out the best in me
But if I’m gonna really try to get thin
I can only eat
An occasional raisin
Wait until you see it in Better Than Crazy. Amy and Aaron make it something special.
– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy
Coming Friday: Lolita and her bag of film equipment tricks…