Los Angeles Times
Neil Innes salute at Mods & Rockers fest
“Charming & illuminating documentary”
You can tell a lot about a person from their heroes. There are those who cite great statesmen or politicians; others look up to athletes, scientists, philosophers or artists.
For British musician and humorist Neil Innes, it’s Brian Dunkleman, who quit his job co-hosting “American Idol” with Ryan Seacrest because he didn’t like the way contestants were being treated.
“Dunkleman turned his back on a fortune, and people ridicule him for it — I think he’s a hero,” says Innes, one-time member of the inner circle of the Monty Python comedy troupe who's often referred to as “The Seventh Python.” That happens to be the title of a new film documentary on Innes' career, which also has included membership in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Eric Idle’s Beatles satire project The Rutles, for which Innes wrote all the delightful Fab Four-esque songs.
“I say we should start a 'Dunkleman for President’ campaign,” he said.
His admiration for a pop culture footnote goes to the heart of the charming and illuminating documentary by director Burt Kearns who, like many of those he interviewed for his film, laments that Innes never has received wider recognition for his creative wit and musical acumen.
Innes, however, isn’t one of those bemoaning any absence of grand-scale fame and fortune.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Innes, 63, said earlier this week after arriving in Los Angeles for tonight's world premiere screening of “The Seventh Python,” which kicks off this year's Mods & Rockers Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
“George Harrison had the best take on it: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich and famous,” said Innes, who will follow the screening with a solo concert performance Friday, also at the Egyptian. “But if you’re lucky enough to become rich and famous, you still have to find out who you are inside.”
Innes, apparently, has a sprite inside, one with a wicked sense of humor. That’s one quality that doesn’t easily lend itself to rock hero status. If you’re funny, it seems, don’t expect to be taken seriously. Just ask Loudon Wainwright III. Or "Weird Al" Yankovic.
“That’s the problem I’ve had all my life,” Innes said, an ever-present lilt in his voice. “The truth is there is a lot of music out there that isn’t trying to be funny, but it still is. The Bonzos used to point this out in the '60s. There’s that thing that you can’t ignore what you see, and the human condition is funny.”
So is much of “The Seventh Python” — even to its subject. “There’s a wonderful moment when they’re on the street showing a photo of me and no one can identify it. Then one person looks into the camera and says, ‘I know what you’re doing — you’re making a documentary about someone nobody’s ever heard of.’ I just adored that.”
It’s been an unusually reflective period recently for Innes. Earlier this year, Innes and Idle revisited the Rutles with “Rutlemania,” a theatrical production blending footage from the 1978 satirical film with live performances of the music. Innes has also done a string of shows in Europe with Fatso, a band frequently featured on Idle’s “Rutland Weekend Television” British TV series in the '70s, and he’s taken part in periodic get-togethers by the Bonzo Dog Band.
“We have a Bonzos reunion every year, but I think we should probably call it a day now,” he said. “It’s much better to carry on doing things that light you up the most. In the end, I’ve always felt that if you’re enthusiastic about something, people will be enthusiastic about watching it.”
The man who wrote such incisive pop ditties as “Cheese and Onions,” “I’m the Urban Spaceman” and the Bob Dylan send-up “Protest Song” is most interested lately in “fooling around with a book I'm working on about human consciousness. I’m more interested in what the scientist boys and the subatomic particle people are working on these days…. It’s an antidote to the sort of numbing rubbish that seems to be everywhere.
“The media seem to be biased against the understanding of everything. But you can have your own explorations into trying to understand why does this happen. I think you can say that God does exist, but perhaps only in one person at a time. And maybe that’s why people move in such mysterious ways.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Neil Innes performing "The Protest Song" on a London street in 1976 by Yvonne Innes/Mods & Rockers Film Festival