In the age of crack cocaine, Tiananmen Square, and Rodney King one thrash metal band carried the music scene of Rockland County, New York with powerful live performances and songs chock-full of social commentary. Riphouse 151: Could’ve Been’s and Wanna Be’s, directed by newcomer Peter O’Brien, chronicles the rise and collapse of Riphouse, an unsigned band with strong principles that was relatively unknown outside of the tri-state region in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
The documentary features reflective interviews with the three surviving band members: frontman bassist Mike Clancy, guitarist Joe Galvin, and drummer Jim DeMaria along with their families, followers, and friends, mixed in with archival footage of performances and classic photos of their day.
Early in the film, Clancy and Galvin explain how their abuse of cocaine helped them develop into a speed metal band. Ironically, it will be multiple freebasing binges and depression that will lead to Clancy’s discovery of Jesus Christ and the ultimate downfall of the band.
Towards the end of the film we learn that the lead guitarist of Riphouse, Jon Eleazar was tragically killed as a result of an auto accident shortly after the band’s final shows in the early 90’s. Galvin, who was in the car with Eleazar, managed to survive the crash. While the documentary portrays this unfortunate event in a serious and sensitive manner, the viewer might feel that the circumstances surrounding the accident are a bit ambiguous.
Riphouse 151 contains special appearances by ESPN Radio’s Don LaGreca who used to promote the band on the radio and Rob Dukes of Exodus who was the band’s former roadie. In his interview segments, Dukes often comes off as a beer guzzling ball-buster. Quotes from Dukes include, “Clancy was a big baby,” and “I love them guys, not really.”
O’Brien skillfully depicts Riphouse as a powerful local band using concert footage and 30 or so different interviewees. It is very clear that the band never cared to be a MTV sell-out. The band came close to signing with a small label known as Grudge Records, however Clancy refused orders to put a sexy girl on the cover of the record.
One of the funnier scene’s of the movie is the band performing a thrash parody of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” with lewd and twisted lyrics.
The band’s “Al Bundy high school football” story or peak appears to be when they blew the headlining Flotsam and Jetsam off the stage at a show. However, the band never makes it out of Rockland County as Clancy falls into depression and finds Jesus. The band soon parts ways and finally Eleazar’s untimely death seals the fate of Riphouse.
One remarkable accomplishment of Riphouse 151 is that the viewer really begins to care about this independent band’s story. A major reason for this is that the filmmakers are clearly passionate for this band’s music, the Hudson setting, and what the band stood for in an era of uncertainty that came with the end of the Cold War.
Overall, this is a well-researched, well-documented, and professionally packaged film by Peter O’Brien that is highly recommended and not to be missed. After watching this documentary you will walk away a new member of the Riphouse family. B