by Rick Grant
Grade: B / NR
“Live freaky, die freaky” Charles Manson
The above quote could be Ray McKelvey’s epitaph. McKelvey, a.k.a Stevie Stiletto lived his life and almost died living by that code. He played music that he felt inside and never compromised -plunging into the unknown world of musical angst. He performed bizarre shows that blasted his audience out of its mundane consciousness. Ray was out to rearrange people’s DNA.
Ray’s original band, Stevie Ray Stiletto and the Switchblades invented a genre of rock’n’roll that later became known as punk-a musical expression of total anarchy. Ray and his band did what they wanted on stage, always experimenting with out-there musical ideas acted out as theater of the absurd. No one knew what Ray was going to do next. One night he came out dressed like Betty Davis.
Ray’s crazed jam band movement spread nationwide long after Ray had introduced it to a small following in Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1980s. Ray always put the music first and never sought fame. His experience with record companies substantiated his resolve to remain independent.
The Stevie Ray Stiletto group recorded and distributed their music themselves. They made crude handbills and hawked the music on the streets. Eventually, Stevie Stiletto became a cult hero of the independent music movement.
Later, Ray moved to California to expose his music to a larger audience. Over his 28 year career, Ray had many colorful experiences that became punk folklore. A professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kevin Dunn, thought Ray’s life would make a great documentary.
Over a two year period, Dunn put together the documentary shooting new footage and editing existing videos of Ray’s various performances over the years. The story is told through interviews with former and present band members who gave candid accounts of life on the road with an unpredictable wild man.
Last Friday night I viewed the premiere screening of My Life is Good: The Stevie Stiletto Story at the 5-Points theater. The two hour documentary is a fascinating look inside Ray’s world of debauchery and music.
In the spirit of the authentic documentary format, Dunn let the subjects tell the story of the Ray Stiletto’s life and times. The interviews are funny, shocking, and sometimes, critical of Ray.
Respected guitarist, Tommy Berlin was philosophical about being forced out of the band, but I could tell he’s still pissed off. Overshadowing that, Tommy met his lover-heroin– and has never been the same. Now, Tommy is clean but in perpetual recovery.
On one occasion in the middle of nowhere, Ray quit the band and demanded to exit the van. When he was all alone in a barren land, he realized that this wallet, money, and shoes were still in the van. So, he begged some shoes from an old black man and eventually made it to a Western Union office to have enough money wired to him to make it back home.
One ex-girlfriend said that Ray was a cock roach-“you can’t kill him.” Yes, Ray almost drank himself to death, but he survived chronic cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis C. At one point, Ray was given only a couple of days to live. There was even a rumor that he had died.
Miraculously, Ray is still thriving. He now lives like a monk eating only vegetables and getting plenty of rest. Almost dying has given Ray new creative energy. He’s still playing gigs and writing songs. Now, on some nights, he plays in an acoustic duo presenting his intelligently conceived ballads. Sober Ray is a very sweet and gentle guy.
Dunn’s documentary chronicles Ray’s wild and crazy life as an original artist who said “I wouldn’t change a thing.” It’s well worth watching. The DVD comes with a 22 song retrospective CD that’s available at www.geneval13.com. It will also be available at Amazon soon.
My Life is Great: The Stevie Ray Stiletto Story
by Rick Grant