Whiskey on Beer

Published on January 2nd, 2019

In spring 2016 PureHoney first talked to Gary and Tarek Ahmed, brothers from Connecticut who had stumbled upon a long-gone South Florida punk band called LOAD and were so blown away they wanted to make a film about the band.

All they had then was a promotional trailer and an Indiegogo campaign. Today, they are director and producer, respectively, of “Whiskey and Beer,” a feature-length documentary named for a LOAD song that has its world premiere on Feb.1 at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

In the South Florida scene of the 1990s that produced Marilyn Manson, Nuclear Valdez and Collapsing Lungs, LOAD were infamous for partying as hard as they played. They were good enough to attract music-industry interest but too unstable to maintain it. Singer-screamer Robert H. Johnston, aka Bobby Load, was the band incarnate — a force-of-nature frontman who died in 2012. LOAD guitarist Jeff Tucci passed away two years later.

Drawn in by the music, the Ahmeds decided to track down the surviving members and chart the band’s muddy legacy. The lengths these first-time documentarians went to is a tale of its own. They turned to crowdfunding, but didn’t wait for donors. They hit the road, collecting interviews on their own dime, two fans plowing through scarce funding, ineptitude and other people’s wariness, buoyed by belief.

“There were a lot of regrets not having the right equipment or messing something up because we didn’t have the proper crew,” Gary tells PureHoney by email. “Some interviews were unusable because of audio issues, some interviews just didn’t come out well due to my own inexperience as a filmmaker.”

LOAD

The South Florida music scene is in many ways jaded toward any attention lavished on it by outsiders; we get excited and suspicious. Having coughed up thousands of dollars on Kickstarter to someone else for an unmade film about Churchill’s Pub, the fabled Miami punk dive, locals understandably had doubts. “[W]e can’t really malign anybody for their impatience after sooo many people got burned by the Churchill’s documentary,” writes Tarek.

There was also the memory hole left by Tucci and Johnston.

“There’s not many audio interviews or home video footage of the two during or after the band was active,” Gary writes. “The few clips that we were able to dig up for the film are pretty cool and hopefully will give the audience a window into who they were as people and performers but a lot of things I think Jeff and Bobby unfortunately took to their grave, as far as their perspective on the whole thing.”

There is footage of Johnston saying he doesn’t want to be remembered. In some respects, he wasn’t alone. One of the biggest interviews the Ahmeds struggled to get was with LOAD’s manager, Bob Slade, who they had tracked to a radio station in Colorado.

LOAD

“He didn’t understand why we thought he was such an important part of the story,” Gary writes, “but I think Bob Slade and the work he did through his radio show Off The Beaten Path on WLRN really contributed to the popularity that LOAD had in their time.

“If you look through old LOAD flyers there’s a period where LOAD opened for almost every national rock and alternative act that came through south Florida and I think Bob was a big part of that,” Gary writes.

Slade agreed to an interview. “I was the only person on set that day,” Gary recalls. The microphone died during filming, but this time he had a backup and the footage was saved.

“Each round of shooting ended up looking more professional as we figured out the technical and aesthetic elements of shooting a documentary film,” Gary writes. “Overall I’m happy with how the film turned out and I think it looks remarkably professional considering the budget.”

Art is toil in the hope of creating something that connects whether or not it leads to fame and riches. Some artists strike gold; some get close. Most are repaid in memories. South Florida gets accused of lacking memory or drinking it away. “Where dreams go to die” is the cheeky motto of a Fort Lauderdale bar where Tucci’s guitar hangs near one of Johnston’s paintings. But two visitors are helping us remember what makes a scene.

“Whiskey on Beer” premieres February 1 and repeats on February 2 at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale with a 9pm party, 10pm screening and filmmaker Q&A afterward both nights. $10 advance, $12 door. fliff.com ~ Tim Moffatt

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