Like a lot of curious, pop-culture-crazed music lovers, Jake Fogelnest grew up watching a whole lot of MTV. Unlike most other curious, pop-culture-crazed music lovers, a big part of Fogelnest’s adolescence entailed being on MTV. At the age of 14, Fogelnest created Squirt TV, a public-access show he taped in his own home. The show was such a cult success and hipster magnet that MTV came calling, and at the age of 16, Fogelnest became an unlikely personality on the taste-making channel. The precocious teen was a big enough hit on MTV that the network ordered a second season of Squirt TV that never came to fruition, for various reasons. Fogelnest did a whole lot of living before exiting his tumultuous and eventful teens, which included a stint in rehab, before reinventing himself as an ebullient pundit, writer, podcaster, radio personality, and all-around enthusiast. Fogelnest hosts the Earwolf podcast The Fogelnest Files and is currently in New York writing for the new season of the Funny Or Die game show Billy On The Street.
When asked to choose a film everyone should see, Fogelnest unsurprisingly chose a cult classic he’s talked about extensively on his podcast and elsewhere: Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Released in 1982 to culture-wide silence—following an extended and tumultuous production and post-production process that dramatically altered its tone and content—Stains chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of The Stains, an all-female punk group led by Corinne Burns (Diane Lane). Coming from the record industry with just one feature film under his belt (the hit Cheech And Chong vehicle Up In Smoke), director Lou Adler populated the cast with real-life punk-rockers like The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook and The Clash’s Paul Simonon. The film was barely released and was all but impossible to track down on home video in the 1980s and 1990s, but has gone on to become an important cult film and a major influence on the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s. Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains can now be seen on DVD and on the streaming services Amazon, Epix, and Redbox Instant.
The Dissolve: For people who have never had the pleasure of watching it, how would you describe Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains?
Jake Fogelnest: Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is a motion picture that stars Diane Lane. She’s 15 years old. She is the lead singer of a punk-rock group called The Stains that get very, very famous very quickly for no reason. And it is about their meteoric rise and fall, which all seems to happen in a couple of weeks. It is one of the best punk-rock movies ever made. It’s one of the prototypes for the Riot Grrrl movement. It stars Steve Jones and Paul Cook from The Sex Pistols. Usually by that point people are interested or not. [Laughs.] Paul Simonon from The Clash, Ray Winstone—it’s just this weird, forgotten, lost, punk-rock movie that I have been championing for 15 years.
The Dissolve: How did you discover it?
Fogelnest: I vaguely remember seeing it on late-night TV, on USA’s Night Flight. I have the haziest memory of it. And then my friend Tara Charne did what I do to people all the time—she’s like, “You know the movie Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains?” And I said, “That sounds familiar, but I don’t really remember.” This was ’95 or ’96.
The Fabulous Stains had never been released on video. It had barely been released in the theater. And Tara had been searching for this movie, and she found this company called Video Search Of Miami. And then I became the source for a lot of bootleg copies of it. I know that I sent it to Courtney Love. She was looking for a copy of it. I became friends with this amazing woman, Sarah Jacobson, who ended up making a documentary about The Fabulous Stains with this guy, Sam Green.
“There’s the pregnant girl in the bathroom who says, ‘I can’t stop eating and eating,’ and she takes the pills. Drugs are not cool in this movie.”
But Sarah was a filmmaker herself. She passed away very young. She had made truly, truly independent films, like Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore. But she was obsessed with this movie, too. Grand Royal magazine was around—the Beastie Boys’ magazine—and I called the editor of that and I said, “We’ve got to do something on Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.” And he said, “What, are you insane? What? I literally just got off the phone with Sarah Jacobson, talking about the same thing.” So Sarah was planning on writing this epic article about Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains for Grand Royal, and we teamed up. I helped her research it. It was her piece, but I helped with it. Sarah just became obsessed with it, and so did I.
And then there was a show on IFC called Split Screen, which John Pierson hosted. You know, Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes—he wrote that, and the documentary Reel Paradise is about him. So he had a show on IFC back in 1999 or something, and it was called Split Screen. And they did a 15-minute documentary on Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Sam Green, who directed a documentary about The Rainbow Man—Rollen Stewart—co-directed with Sarah Jacobson this documentary, which I am in. And she interviewed Nancy Dowd for it, who wrote the film. Even though the movie, onscreen, is credited to Rob Morton, it’s written by Nancy Dowd, who wrote Slap Shot and Coming Home.
The Dissolve: Academy Award-winner Nancy Dowd.
Fogelnest: Yes, exactly. And Sarah got in touch with her and interviewed Nancy, who is not, I guess, the easiest person to get in touch with.
Even back then, in that piece, they’re saying, “Paramount’s thinking about a DVD release.” Sarah passed away. And in maybe 2008 or 2007, somewhere around there—whenever Rhino released it—I one day finally got a phone call. I don’t know how they got in touch with me, but it was Rhino, and they said, “We’re going to release Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains on DVD.” I’d been championing this forever, so I thought, “Oh my God.” They said, “We need your help,” and I said, “Anything you want. How can I help?” They said, “Well, we were told you have some memorabilia. We want you to help promote it. We did a commentary track with Diane Lane and Laura Dern. We did a commentary track with Lou Adler.” They sent me the DVD, the proper transfer of the movie. And it was widescreen for the first time. It was the first time I saw it on a non-bootleg copy.
I have a one-sheet of Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, and I knew where to get another one. So I sent them the poster. I sent them a bunch of photos, press photos. They didn’t have any of that. I had just collected it over the years, really just from Jerry Ohlinger’s in New York. I was just such a fan that I would seek this stuff out. They ended up using one of the photos on the cover of the DVD, and I have a credit inside the DVD, for assisting with the making of it. … I’m not exaggerating that, if there’s any sort of credit that I am most proud of out of all the things that I’ve been involved with, it’s that my name is in the Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains DVD, because it meant a lot to me.
I met Lou Adler in an airport last year. I was flying to Chicago, actually, and I’m at the gate and I see Lou Adler. And I decide I’m going to go up to him, because it’s Lou Adler—who goes up to Lou Adler? So I go up to him and go, “Excuse me, Lou Adler, I’m a big fan. I just wanted to tell you how much Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains means to me.” And he laughed. Because of all the things that you could go up to Lou Adler in an airport and talk to him about, that’s got to be pretty low on the list. You figure he’d think, “Okay, this guy’s a fan. He’s going to talk to me about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he’s going to talk to me about Cheech And Chong, he’s going to talk to me about The Mamas & tThe Papas.” And I talked to him about this movie he directed that barely came out. [Laughs.] And he was very appreciative, and it was very nice, and that was it. But it’s really been a quest. People are probably sick of me talking about the movie.
The Dissolve: Lou Adler is a guy who has a really remarkable genius for knowing what the kids will like, from The Mamas & The Papas to Cheech And Chong to Rocky Horror Picture Show. Why do you think this film was such a spectacular commercial failure?
Fogelnest: That is something that is really covered in the documentary. I think, in a short answer, cocaine. The script was originally called All Washed Up, and it was written by Nancy Dowd and Caroline Coon. Nancy Dowd seems to have a history of taking her name off of projects, if you look at her IMDb. You know, she was hanging out with Caroline Coon, who’s a publicist and a champion of rock ’n’ roll, and she’s hanging out with The Clash, and dinner parties in London. And I think that Nancy Dowd wrote a very, very pro-feminist, pro-punk-rock movie that Paramount bought because she was a hot-shit screenwriter. The story that Lou Adler tells is that Lou Adler was given two scripts by Paramount to direct: One of them was called All Washed Up, which became The Stains, and the other one was Airplane! And he chose All Washed Up. So he chose All Washed Up.
And then you’ve got a lot of things going on. You’ve got Fee Waybill from The Tubes, The Sex Pistols, Steve Jones detoxing from methadone in Canada, Paul Simonon from The Clash. It’s after The Sex Pistols had self-destructed. You’ve got teenage girls, a strong, smart, feminist writer with a crew of rich, white, old men from Hollywood. And it was not a pleasurable experience for Nancy Dowd. In the documentary there’s talk of some real serious sexual harassment.
The Dissolve: She’s on the set?
Fogelnest: Yeah, on the set. She tells this story about this situation with somebody who’s the focus-puller. And instead of going to turn the knob to adjust the focus on the camera, he turned one of Nancy’s breasts. So you’ve got this hostile, cocaine-fueled environment. Fee Waybill is trying cocaine in the movie—you know, there’s a scene where he’s doing a coke deal—and apparently there was real cocaine involved.
The Dissolve: That’s also a scene where somebody overdoses on cocaine. So it’s like, “Hey, that’s a really fun idea, to do it for real.”
Fogelnest: Yeah, it’s a bad time in Hollywood. You would have to look up the dates, but it’s not long after, or around the same time as Robert Evans and Popeye and the cocaine deal, and all that stuff at Paramount. It’s cocaine and male ego and sexual harassment and the studio system. And yet somehow, throughout all of that, this really pro-feminist movie, this really important movie for women, emerged from it. So they shoot it, they go back, and there’s a lot of footage to go through. And they edit and they decide they have to change the ending, because the studio wants a more upbeat ending. And also MTV had happened by the time they had shot the movie and by the time they had gone through editing. It labored in editing, it labored in studio notes, and by the time they were done, what you were left with was this slow movie, long after punk rock was a thing.
The Dissolve: It’s a full half-decade after Never Mind The Bollocks.
Fogelnest: Yeah. It’d be like if they make an Odd Future movie in two years. They were just too late. And it’s a studio movie. One of my other favorite lost films, Times Square, had come out and been enormously unsuccessful—another female-fronted punk-rock movie, which I think is a perfect companion piece to Fabulous Stains, and as good. Paramount thought, “What the fuck do we do with this?” So they dumped [Stains] in arthouses, it showed at the Film Forum in Los Angeles, and then they put it on late-night cable.
The Dissolve: It’s not like Fee Waybill was going to draw the masses in.
Fogelnest: It was even before The Tubes’ biggest hit. It was like, “What do we do with this thing?” I don’t know why Paramount made that movie.
The Dissolve: Do you think part of it was Lou Adler? He was a big deal, Nancy Dowd was coming off of Coming Home and Slap Shot, and punk rock seemed to be what “the kids” were listening to.
Fogelnest: Yeah. In the six months that it made sense to make that movie, they financed it. And then they didn’t get what they were expecting. Nobody got what they were expecting from making this movie. The whole thing just didn’t work. But the people that saw it and the people that needed to see it were the people that needed to see it—Kathleen Hanna.
The Dissolve: It wasn’t for the masses.
Fogelnest: No, it’s still not. I show this movie to some people and they hate it. They think it’s a bad movie. I know that this movie is special and for a limited audience. And it appeals to a lot of the things that I’m interested in. This is a movie that is to my particular sensibility. I think a particular type of person falls in love with this movie. It’s a true cult movie.
The Dissolve: On what level do you think the rebellion of Diane Lane’s character is sincere, and on what level do you think it’s a calculated act?
Fogelnest: I think that that character begins in a place of complete teenage optimism. I think she’s in a situation that sucks before she ever steps foot on a stage. The opening of the movie is her getting fired from her job and talking back.
The Dissolve: She gets fired from her job and television cameras are filming it. It becomes a proto-viral video.
Fogelnest: Getting fired from her job on television. “This town died years ago!” Just a teenage girl that wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. I think that that was a teenage girl that was operating out of frustration. And it’s a news story in the movie because most teenage girls aren’t like that, and she is. And she’s got a completely screwed-up family situation, and she’s responding out of anger. It’s the same reason why Sandy West played the drums, you know, “What do you mean, I can’t play the drums?” or Cherie Currie said, “I have to let this out.” There’s a key line and a key moment in the first seven minutes of the movie. She says, “First thing we’re going to do is build a radio station, and we’re going to play nothing but rock ’n’ roll and the truth.” [Laughs.] And that’s just like, “Fuck this. I’m unhappy. I’m a teenager. We’re gonna just fucking do this, man.”
And then it’s the classic story: She gets a lot of attention before they’re ready—before they’ve even done anything—just based on hype and pure, raw emotion. Just id. Just saying, “Fuck you!” That gets people to pay attention. And then it’s like, “All right, I’m listening,” and the whole world’s watching, and then it’s like, “Yeah! I am important! I am saying something that matters. I’m smarter than everybody.” And then getting caught up in the music industry machine and becoming an asshole. It just all falls apart.
The Dissolve: It seems like her rage is genuine, but she’s corrupted very quickly. And one of the things that’s really compelling about the film is, on one hand, you’re thinking, “Wow, this woman steals her lover’s song. This is a person who betrays the people who are close to her.” But she’s so smart, and she is so screwed, that you root for her. And part of it is that Diane Lane is great in this movie. She isn’t just a pretty girl they put in a rock ’n’ roll movie. It’s a real performance.
Fogelnest: The movie would collapse if it wasn’t for how good Diane Lane is. No other actress could pull that off at that moment. She’s just so real. Some of the things she has to say are ridiculous, but she is so real and grounded, you do root for this character. What happens is, it’s about a teenager and it’s not unreasonable for her to get seduced by fame because fame is externally filling a huge void left in this person because her family situation is so fucked up.
The Dissolve: Everything’s fucked up. Her family situation is fucked up, her work situation is fucked up, and her financial situation is fucked up. She has every reason in the world to want to run away and to reinvent herself.
Fogelnest: Right. She’s like a teenage runaway, and then the world is saying to her, “You’re special and you’re important, and now you’re famous.” And that in the hands of a teenager is a dangerous thing. It doesn’t take a good psychiatrist to understand why I relate to this movie. [Laughs.] I went through my own experience with teenage fame. And she handles it badly, and she makes some really bad decisions, but at the end of the day she is a good person. And what she’s fighting for and what she’s fighting against—she’s right. She’s not wrong. It’s her methodology and buying her own bullshit. It’s a really imperfect character. It’s a flawed human being portrayed on screen that you’re with the whole time. And I think that might be another reason why the movie doesn’t work, is because when do you see a movie where the protagonist is such a flawed character?
The Dissolve: As flawed as Lane’s character is, you sympathize with her as someone trying to survive in a violently sexist society and industry.
Fogelnest: A violently sexist society, and the movie was made under violently sexist conditions.
The Dissolve: I think that’s part of where the ambivalence comes from, the conflict between this feminist, angry, rebellious, punk-rock movie designed by Dowd and Coon and this film made by these rich white men in their 40s or 50s. Do you think that Lou Adler understood punk rock?
Fogelnest: I don’t, no. I think it’s clear from some of the choices made in the film that he didn’t understand punk rock. I think that the cynicism of punk rock in that film probably comes from Lou Adler going, “This is just the latest fad. This is just a thing that’s passing through.” Just from knowing what I know about the history of the making of the film, I feel like that’s true. And I think that Lou Adler would be angry that somebody is saying that. But I think that it’s true. I think that he understood 65 percent of punk rock, but not more than that. But I think that the filmmakers—not the screenwriter but the filmmakers—have more in common with the male news anchor—you know, “It takes all kinds,” he says. “Why would this seemingly beautiful girl do that to her hair?” I think that Lou and the studio have more in common with that guy than they do with Alicia Meeker [Cynthia Sikes’ character], and certainly they have nothing in common with Diane Lane, with Corinne Burns. But Lou is not an idiot, in the sense that he does portray that news anchor as an asshole and he doesn’t get it. I don’t know that Lou gets this movie.
The Dissolve: Even though the film’s take on punk is really cynical and sneering, the music itself asserts the validity of the genre as well as its authenticity and power.
Fogelnest: That’s when I fell in love with the movie, is the “Waste Of Time” scene, where they’re singing that song with the lyrics, “I’m a waste of time / I’m a waste of time.” That’s so great. And then, “I’m perfect, but none of you understand me because I don’t put out.” I thought, “Well, this is my favorite movie.” I decided right then and there that this is my favorite movie. I’ve heard stories about them making the soundtrack, and they had these really sleek session musicians that were instructed to play shitty, because it’s punk rock.
They got it enough that they recognized “Waste Of Time” is a great fucking lyric, but then they were like, “Yeah, but play it badly, because it’s supposed to be girls playing punk rock.” It’s like Lou Adler as a music producer thought, “Girls don’t know how to play rock ’n’ roll.” I know that he can’t think that, really, because, for Christ’s sake, he produced The Mamas & The Papas. Who’s more rock ’n’ roll than Mama Cass? I don’t know. I would love to talk to Lou. I will never stop having questions about the movie and the making of the movie. It’s an endlessly fascinating topic to me.
I’ve got a friend going out and pitching TV shows, and the executives are saying, “It’s too female.” That shit’s never changed. There’s a key line about that in the movie: “You are an old man in a young girl’s world.” And I think that that is true, but I think that when it comes to the media and show business, yes, it’s a young girl’s world by an old man’s rules, which Corinne finds out. And it’s disgusting. How can a movie that attacks a rich, old, white world be made in a rich, old, white world, at least at Paramount in 1980? [Laughs.] So I think that’s where it got fucked up. And, God, I would love to talk to Nancy Dowd about that. And, by the way, I don’t think Lou Adler made a bad movie. I think Lou Adler did the best he could under the circumstances. And I think that Lou Adler is a businessman, and I think he recognized that he was directing a movie for a studio. He got so much right that it doesn’t matter. Nancy Dowd talks about it in this documentary. She says, “I got home late from a party one night and I turned on TV, and I’m watching this movie and I’m like, ‘This seems really familiar. Have I seen this before?’ I wrote it.” That was how she saw The Fabulous Stains for the first time. It’s almost recognizable. It’s almost her vision.
The Dissolve: It seems like the beauty of Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is that it was a movie where young girls embraced it and loved it and saw it as an inspiration, and old men didn’t understand it and ignored it. And that’s why we’re talking about it 31 years later.
Fogelnest: There’s not many of my male friends that connect to that movie. It is always my female friends that get it.
The Dissolve: Which is weird, because it’s not a girly film at all. The women in the film are really badass. Diane Lane has bigger balls than Ray Winstone and the members of The Clash and The Sex Pistols. And she was was a teenager and a former child star.
Fogelnest: Absolutely. The tagline for the movie on the poster, and it’s one of the great lines, where Alicia Meeker sort of corrects the other news guy, like, “These girls created themselves.” And that’s what’s on the poster—it says “These girls created themselves.” I think that is so good, and so important, and so what the movie is about. And I think that whatever muddiness of making the movie, ultimately what resonated was Diane Lane’s performance and those great moments. You can see the prototype of Riot Grrrl in that. Bikini Kill is 20 years old at this point. It’s a little bit of a bummer because you see nothing’s really changed. But I do almost think that the movie is almost more relevant now, as more and more of those discussions are happening, or they seem to be happening again and louder, in an interesting way.
The Dissolve: In the film, Corrine’s make-up and style are intended as a revolt against conformity, but it isn’t long until they become a form of conformity; her fans all dress and act like her, despite her message of independence and autonomy.
Fogelnest: Yeah, absolutely. She’s a concept that got exploited. She was a willing participant in allowing that to happen. She did not know the repercussions and the lasting effects of what she was doing. It didn’t matter because the record industry was making money anyway. That’s the great thing about the Sex Pistols’ story, is them being paid all that money to go away from EMI? It’s just one of those great things. Of course, the way the Sex Pistols ended is exactly how it had to end, but really painful.
The Dissolve: What are you talking about? They still get back together for reunions. They’re better and more relevant than ever!
Fogelnest: John Lydon does butter commercials now. But two kids died. And a lot of money was made. And it continues to be made. Steve Jones has a great life now, you know? He has it all, and it just sort of strikes me that he does what he wants to do. He’s settled into being one of those great, older British guys in California, which is were I think all British guys want to go. [Laughs.] They seem to love to end up in Los Angeles. It’s exactly how it had to go, but we’ve learned from the mistakes. And I like that drugs are portrayed in the movie, too, and they’re portrayed with consequences.
The Dissolve: And in a really grubby, unappealing way.
Fogelnest: It is unappealing. Drugs in that movie are pathetic. There’s the pregnant girl in the bathroom who says, “I can’t stop eating and eating,” and she takes the pills. Drugs are not cool in this movie.
The Dissolve: It’s one of the components of rock ’n’ roll life that seems really appealing and glittery from the outside, and from the inside, as depicted in this movie, it’s just kind of sad and gross.
Fogelnest: It’s a cynical movie, though—you’re right. It’s a very cynical movie. It’s cynical about the music industry. It’s cynical about feminism. But I think the core values are so strong that everything breaks through that bullshit where they got it wrong.