Is Everybody Happy?

Documentary delivers a life lesson for budding musicians, but without the happy ending

Posted on Jul 29th, 2013 in Videos, Timothy Marklevitz / By Lewie Peckham
Wake up, drive, stop for petrol and cheap processed food, drive, fight over the van stereo, drive, arrive at venue, soundcheck, kill time, drink, play for 30 minutes (if you're lucky), sell a CD (if you're lucky), get drunk and maybe eat (again, if you're lucky), sleep on someone’s floor (if you're lucky) or sleep in the cramped confines of your ‘tour bus’ (transit van or car), wake up, drive and repeat.

If you are in, or have ever been in, a band, the above routine might sound all too familiar. Around the world there are countless bands experiencing the exhausting regimen of touring clubs, bars and any places that will have them. Going without food because the meagre payment they received for their bottom-of-the-bill set went on petrol money so they could make it to the next show and live out that barely romanticized dream.

There isn't any kind of ‘Anvil’ ending for Grand Rapids, Michigan band Bless You Boys. In Sacha Gervasi’s 2008 documentary that charts the fall and then surprising rise of the aging Canadian metal band, it climaxes with a rapturous, packed-out crowd greeting them after the band’s spirits are dampened following the realisation they are the first band on the bill on the first day of a three-day festival. There is no such triumph for the four members of Bless You Boys. Is Everybody Happy? documents the collapse of a band as they play to no one in bars and, most disheartening of all, a succession of Hot Topics (think Claire's Accessories for emo kids) in faceless American malls. When we first meet the band they are already worn down and weary from the road. There are clear signs of the emotional fatigue of a band that should have called it quits months ago but persevere because of a history of making music together and a belief that their friendship will ultimately beat the odds and reap some kind of success.

It’s apparent from the beginning that Bless You Boys won’t make it. Their music, bland grunge-lite at best, would have ended up on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy alongside the scores of other preppy alterna-pop rock bands oozing out of the myriad earnest U.S primetime TV dramas that seem to play on constant rotation. To watch a terrible band fail, however, isn't the point of Is Everybody Happy?

It would have been easy for director Tim Marklevitz to make Is Everybody Happy? a gleeful exercise in watching a young band slowly implode under the weight of stress and bitterness and, at times, their own ego. A more unlikable side of the band appears as the documentary goes on; frontman Chris Andrus clearly feels that his band are owed some kind of success just because they have spent a tour losing money playing shitbox dive bars and empty shopping malls. Yet, regardless of how grating the band becomes, you find yourself rooting for Bless You Boys to call it quits not because they deserve to have their dreams crushed and egos bruised, but to save them and put them out of their misery.

At its heart, Is Everybody Happy? is a thought piece on how not to be in a band, as it deals with the real sense of expectation and reward from touring and playing music, the comparison of the romanticized notion of a small band’s touring life to the cold, hard truths of being out on the road. It’s nonetheless essential viewing for any young band that thinks small tours are yellow brick roads to major label record company doors.