Kweder

By A.D. Amorosi

When Phil­adelphia’s John Hutelmy­er was in col­lege at Temple Uni­versity, he in­terned in Cali­for­nia on a fea­ture length doc­u­ment­ary “about a suc­cess­ful band” for dir­ect­or Jared Leto (un­der the nom de plume “Bartho­lomew Cub­bins”). Though he won’t say it out loud, the film was 2012’s col­or­ful Ar­ti­fact and its doc­u­ment­ary’s sub­ject was Leto’s slick but in­cen­di­ary, plat­in­um plated, alt-rock act with his broth­er, 30 Seconds to Mars, and the band’s head­aches with their (then) re­cord la­bel.

“It was with that film that I real­ized that I could ac­tu­ally do something like that on my own,” says Hutelmy­er. “I knew it would be hard, and that there would be much to learn, but from that in­tern­ship, I truly real­ized that any­one can just go out and make something if they really try.” (That does not sound like a ringing en­dorse­ment for Leto, but, hey).

The res­ult of Hutelmy­er’s next round of hard work—a lit­er­ate, har­row­ing, yet com­ic doc­u­ment­ary about Philly folk rock hero Kenn Kweder, Ad­ven­tures of a Secret Kidd: The Mass Hal­lu­cin­a­tion of Kenn Kweder—premiered, Fri., March 25 at In­ter­na­tion­al House in Uni­versity City with sev­er­al screen­ings, Q/A ses­sions and, last but not least, an acous­tic show­case by the film’s tit­u­lar South­w­est Philly-raised sing­er-writer who put songs such as “Heroin,” “The Bal­lad of Ma­nute Bol,” and “The Girl with the Dylan Flowers” on the loc­al map.

“We have been at the Kweder film for three years in our spare time between full time jobs, side jobs, school, mar­riages, etc., and the en­tire time we have been learn­ing as we went along,” says Hutelmy­er, not­ing that he made Ad­ven­tures of a Secret Kidd with co-dir­ect­or Robert Nic­ol­aides and cam­era per­son/cine­ma­to­graph­er Car­man Spoto. “We are really proud of the fi­nal res­ults.”

For the un­ini­ti­ated—say, dum­mies or sober col­lege teens who have nev­er been to a bar in the Tri-State area—Kweder has long been a Phil­adelphia in­sti­tu­tion and, of course, a rock star. Yes, it says so on his busi­ness card. Long be­fore there was a Meek Mill, The Roots, G. Love, The Hoot­ers, Cinder­ella or oth­er Philly mu­sic­al names of note, there was Kweder; a smart, caustic­ally funny lyr­i­cist with a glam-to-folk mu­sic sense of in­vent­ive­ness and an al­ways-ef­fort­less lo­qua­cious­ness that played it­self out nightly (even daily as he is known to do sev­er­al gigs a day). Mak­ing his bones at (now) long-closed, live mu­sic wa­ter­ing holes in the 1970s such as the Bi­jou Caf&ea­cute;, J.C. Dobbs and Doc Wat­sons (but no punk palaces, punk be­ing the bane of Kenn’s ex­ist­ence as played out in his doc­u­ment­ary) to the present day of uni­versity sa­loons every­where, if a mic is avail­able, Kweder is there. Stor­ies of de­sire, drink­ing, woe and want sung in a force­ful warb­ling voice made him a sur­viv­al­ist troubadour who con­tin­ues craft­ing his own unique Phil­adelphia vis­ion. “Kenn is an en­ter­tain­ing per­son and a bit of a char­ac­ter,” says Hutelmy­er. “In my seni­or year at col­lege, he let me fol­low him around for a few days to shoot a mini doc­u­ment­ary on him. He is one of the nicest people I know and it just amazes me how he con­nects to every­one so eas­ily. Add in his life­style and his mind­set and you have the per­fect sub­ject.”

For his part, Kweder sub­mit­ted tons of raw foot­age for con­sid­er­a­tion to the dir­ect­ors from his 30-plus years of per­form­ing (“which fans of mine gave me through the years”) and let the film­makers go. “Warts, yes. Truth, yes; up and down and side­ways,” says Kweder of the pro­cess that found his past dis­sec­ted in­to the suc­cesses and fail­ures of life and busi­ness (fam­ously, he was set to be signed by Arista when the no­tion of artist­ic com­prom­ise got in the way and up his nose) and his bad re­la­tion­ship with punk Phil­adelphia. “The low­est point of my ca­reer would be in the peri­od 1979 till 1984 where I was vi­ciously bashed in­cess­antly by folks in Philly that rep­res­en­ted the punk “move­ment.” I was con­sidered an over-the-hill pari­ah by all of them. They made my life miser­able. Re­lent­less hatred to­ward me. Re­lent­less. I could not be­lieve it. To this day if I cross paths with any of them, they still give me the evil eye.”

That the highs out­weigh the lows (wins such as work­ing with top-notch pro­du­cers such as Chris Lar­kin, Ben Vaughn and Al Fich­era; his big band Elvis gigs where he dressed as The King) through the present day is what makes Ad­ven­tures of a Secret Kidd: The Mass Hal­lu­cin­a­tion of Kenn Kweder more than just a vic­tory lap. “Nev­er stop,” says Kweder of his cur­rent situ­ation where he plays eight days a week. “I gotta be in some sort of present tense artist­ic equa­tion. Oth­er­wise I have no mean­ing.”

Neither would the film of his life, as stay­ing alive, liv­ing well and flour­ish­ing is the best re­venge for Kenn Kweder.

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