Monday, January 11, 2010

The Rock-afire Explosion!

The Rock-afire Explosion - 2008 - Dir: Brett Whitcomb
Location: The Comfort of My House

What happened to the good old days of the eighties? The cartoons were fun, socks were taller and the pizza places were fun. One of my favorite places to go as a kid was Showbiz Pizza Place. This chain started in the south in 1980 and exploded into 200 stores across the country. There was pizza, games, beer for parents and, of course, The Rock-afire Explosion band. There were three stages in the main eating room and every so often the lights would dim and the curtains would open to reveal and animatronic band to entertain the kids.

Here's a great Showbiz Pizza Place spot I can remember seeing on TV:

As soon as the song kicks in on that video the lyrics came rushing back to me, as did the memories. I remember sitting at those long tables during many a birthday party with pizza on my plate and pitchers of soda spread about while I struggled to hear the band play over all the screaming kids in the game room. Those memories are vivid and wonderful. I have some memorabilia still like my 45 of a Beatles Medley and a Billy Bob Bear song "Roast Beef Sandwhich," a red Frisbee (both pictured left) and somewhere I have some pencils and an activity book if not more. Since Chuck E. Cheese took over and ousted the Explosion things began a downward spiral. I haven't been to a CEC in a long time but I hear they have more pre-made videos and less live shows. Today's kids just aren't impressed with an animatronic band like they used to be and that makes me sad.

There are some people who still look fondly on this band and have made it their life's obsession to own the full show in their homes. The documentary, The Rock-afire Explosion, explores these people and what they love doing most - watching the Explosion do their thing. There is a huge fan base and many of them not only collect the items like I have, their collections include the actual shows made and fully operational. These people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on the obsession and I must say it's pretty awesome.

One of the people interviewed on the doc, Mike Scherpenberg (those of you from my Rocky Horror days will know him as Slappy), is a guy I know locally in the Dallas area. Around five years ago I went to his house and saw the live show in his garage. It was amazing and I felt just like a kid again. It takes a lot of compressors to operate these life size musical animals and a special type of audio equipment that tells each character where and when to move.

The sad part of the film is seeing the creator of the group, Aaron Fechter, and everything he's gone through. His once bustling warehouse is now occupied by just him, and his raw emotions come out as he recounts the shaft he was given when they decided to sever ties with him and his company to switch over to Chuck E. Cheese. It upset me to the point that I want to go to their offices, in Irving, and kick someone.

Too bad these places are not still in operation, but at least I have the memories. If you loved Showbiz as a kid, or even if you know nothing about it, this is a great documentary to watch about a the best damn animatronic band ever!

Here's the film's trailer with plenty of Billy Bob, Fatz, Mitzi, Dook, Beach Bear, Looney Bird, Rolfe and Earle. You can buy the DVD at the film's official site.


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