Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
It was weird to see the Kings of Leon led by thick-necked security guards through the throngs of sweaty, dancing C-list socialites and Jersey Girls with bedazzled manicures at Marquee on the west side of Manhattan the other night. The last time I really remember drinking with these guys, we were all playing video games in the cramped, stinking backroom by the toilets at 119 Bar near Irving Plaza. But that was five or six years ago, before they became stadium-playing superstars and the subjects of their own rock documentary, Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon, the Tribeca Film Fest premiere of which we were celebrating at this cheeseball club. And yet, the Kings are still as weird and profane as they were back when they were beating me at Ms. Pac-Man. “Unicorn semen and angel tears,” bassist Jared Fallowill said when I asked him about the secret to his perfectly spiky rock boy hair. “The angel tears give it that extra kick. They’re from God.”
Talihina Sky is a blend of cinéma vérité tour diary, confessional autobiography (the band members all co-executive produced the film) and news magazine investigative report on the Kings’ mythic backstory, which is so wild people have accused them of making it up. It goes like this: Three brothers — Nathan, Caleb and Jared – grew up poor and rootless, as their Pentecostal preacher father (Ivan) dragged the family from tent revival to tent revival while their mom (Betty Ann) home-schooled the kids. In 1997, after Ivan descended into alcoholism and their parents divorced, Caleb and Nathan moved to Nashville, and eventually recruited their younger brother Jared and cousin Matthew to form Kings of Leon. Now they travel by private jet.
Talihina Sky follows the boys back to the annual Fallowill family reunion – a day-into-night bacchanal where everyone drinks insane quantities of beer, gives each other shit, shoots guns and bathes in a creek. The film exposes the bandmembers’ vulnerabilities (the shame of having grown up poor, the sometimes vicious fraternal bickering). But it also introduces viewers to the cast of magnetic characters these guys grew up around, from Uncle Cleo, the cut-up court jester of the family, to Nacho, Caleb’s cousin and best friend who now travels with the band, to Betty Ann, the dynamic, kooky woman-of-faith who raised them. Much of the extended Fallowill family made the trip up north to see the film for the first time at its Tribeca premiere, which made producer Casey McGrath incredibly nervous. “It was awesome but stressful for us,” he said between gulps of Heineken at Marquee. “No one has come up and punched me out … yet.”
And no one did. Aside from teary-eyed superfans forced to gaze beyond the velvet rope and into the private room where the party was held, everyone in attendance was in good spirits. Caleb posed for pictures with his delicate-boned sweetheart, model Lily Aldridge (who has a surprisingly firm handshake), while Jared attended to a stunning brunette in a ballerina bun and shimmery blue-sequined jacket. Nathan (whose wedding is featured in the film) was all about his mom. The oldest brother and de facto band spokesman periodically checked in with Betty Ann, who is the breakout star of Talihina Sky and dressed the part in a pewter taffeta dress with matching shoulder wrap. “Do you know Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights?” she asked eagerly. “He’s coming tonight.” I told her I’d interviewed him once and he drove a pickup truck and called girls “gals.” She squealed. “I’m in love with him.” We girl talked for a while. Riggs never showed up, but Betty Ann moved on with ease. “I also want to meet Bobby De Niro,” she said, then turned to the band’s publicist and demanded to know: “Is he coming?”