Multi-platinum rock artist Greg Kihn, whose Greg Kihn Band probably holds the record for the most self-referencing album titles ever, will always remember their big 80s hit “Jeopardy,” even if he can’t talk about the after-hours partying that happened in the church where the video was shot.
“Oh! It was wild,” Kihn said in a phone interview. “You know, I’ll tell you. I’m a pretty decent person, but I’m definitely going to hell for what I did in that church after hours. I didn’t want to be struck down by lightning or anything, you know? We were out of control out there and if God hears some of the stuff I did, in the church — well, he might smite me.”
Greg, whose multilevel content contributions to society now range from music to novels to on-air DJ stints, told us more from his home in San Francisco.
“You know I’ve got to tell you,” Kihn said, recalling the series of music videos he did, “I don’t think we could have done it without our director Joe Dea because of his vision to string all the videos together in a narrative. They made sense if you watch all four. And you know, at a time we thought, this is ludicrous, nobody’s going to care about this. But here it is, all these years later, and yeah, it’s a cause for celebration. We really had a lot of fun making those videos and it was a real turning point in the career of the Greg Kihn Band.
Kihn also says the performance video format was starting to stagnate by the time they shot the “Jeopardy” video in 1984.
“You had to remember that back in those days, most videos were performance videos. You know, they’d have some chicks in lingerie dancing over here and on stage over there. There wasn’t really much of a narrative. But [Berzerkley Records producer/owner] Matthew King Kaufman came along and he said, ‘Look, I want to make several videos, with each video standing alone like a little short little movie, and then they can all be strong together in the end.’ But, I want you to look in your Rockstar’s Guidebook and look up there on page 13, referring to what happens if your current wife is in the video! I think that’s the chapter right there because that means you’re not long for this world. But you know, once they worked their hooks into the video, you can’t get rid of them. In truth, she was good. She did a good job. She was a good actor. She was good looking but that was the last thing I needed.
Kihn said the multivideo plan was Kaufman’s, but Joe Dea tapped into Kihn’s horror fandom for the”Jeopardy” video.
“I remember having lunch with them and he was, ‘What do you like?’ I remember telling him that I like horror movies. I like Ray Harryhausen. I like monster movies. I like the old universal horror movies. So then – BINGO! ‘How about like a Night of the Living Dead where you’re getting married and it turns into a horror movie?’ And I said, ‘Joe, you can make this as realistic as you want. My life is an open book.’ In a way it’s based on my first marriage.”
Kihn said the shoot was down and dirty, with a small budget and not much time to shoot.
“It was in the Dolores Park and Mission Dolores, and we shot 3 days straight in the middle of the week. We just did it all in 136 hour marathon shoot. There were a lot of special effects and there was a lot of acting to be done. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it was going to be. We had to come up with little tricks and the kinds of stuff I learned from Joe. Like there’s a scene where this big snake at side of the floor and wraps itself around me? This was Joe’s idea again, another brilliant idea. We couldn’t make it look real because the snake is kind of rubbery and it had a little flex to it and then he said, ‘Why don’t we start out with Greg wrapped tightly in the snake and it just let it go and it would go back to where it was.’ It looked great and we ran it and reversed and it looked like the snake was attacking me. And the green snake’s blood when I’m stabbing the snake is actually Campbell’s Split Pea Soup. We got several huge cans of Campbell’s Split Pea Soup and as I was jabbing the latex snake with the shard of wood there were guys down below me, out of screen, shooting with the water guns, shooting me in the face with the green pea soup. So it looked like I’m stabbing the thing, it gets me with the green blood in the face. It was horrible.”
The theme may have been horror, but some of the scenes just came across as bizarre, like the body morphing, according to Kihn.
“There were somebody’s parents there, they were not my parents but they were somebody’s parents. And you know they had them don this really weird, special effect. It was like a prosthetic where they were joined at the hip. It’s ligature. And that was hard because the thing kept breaking and they had to be totally still.”
The actual wedding scene was a stretch for Kihn, because he actually had to do some acting.
“‘Well,’ Joe said, ‘Look, I know you’re not an actor but I want you to act in the scene. Act like you’re really proud when you pulled the ring out.’ and then at the end he said, “The best second in this entire shoot was when you pulled that ring out.’ I think back on shooting that with Joe Dea, and I really looked back fondly. He was a very talented guy.”
For the shot where the zombie attack pushes Kihn & bride through the church doors, the film stock switches to super 8mm for a more home-movie feel, affecting a transition that makes the viewer think the zombies could have been a dream. Kihn said that scene also had an unexpected result.
“For years afterwards everybody assumed that the super 8 footage was my real wedding,” Kihn said.
Kihn said the video for “Reunited,” a sort-of sequel to “Jeopardy,” was the most fun he had shooting a video.
“We’re off to Oz, the Land of Oz,” Kihn said of the video setting. “We hired 30 or 40 little people, you know, midgets. They were professional munchkins. They’ve worked in this world and they were professional munchkins. They had the mayor of Munchkin City, who was a friend of mine, he was actually a photographer named Randy Bachman, who is now no longer with us. But Randy, he was the mayor of Munchkin City.”
“There’s a scene where we all fall down. My guitar player, Gary Phillips, he was the Keith Richards of the band. This guy always had a cigarette in his mouth and was always high and he would always do blow or drink a Jack Daniels. He was a real rocker. About half way through the show, the halfway through the set he said, ‘The munchkins were out of position again and again.’ And Joe comes out, ‘Look, I want you over here and then I want you guys to move over here and then we’re going to do this over there.” So we do it again, the munchkins messed it up. Garry was half lit at this point and goes, ‘Hey! Tell me just what you need the midgets to do!’ So a little guy comes over to Garry. You know, he’s only coming up to Garry’s waist, I mean, this is a little dude. He comes up to Garry and he kicks him right in the shin. And he goes, ‘It’s little people you asshole! Little people!’ And they all got up and walked out then except for Randy, who was a friend of mine who didn’t want to walk out. So we all had to go and call our kids to come to the set. So if you look at the last shot, you go from professional munchkins to children because we just needed to shoot the back of their heads. That was a wild video.”
“We were so into doing drugs in those days that we had one guy, he was the Cowardly Lion, and one guy was the Tin Man. They were in make-up for two or three hours. They had to form their noses out of clay, you know. So one says, “Can you put the straw up there?” So they tilt the straw into the nose so at any time during the day because once you put these things on they’re on for the day. And he would just keep coming, walk across the stage, lean over, a big lion with a nose he had and SHORT…. That was funny. It’s like all the guys had all these little extensions built into their faces for that. That was crazy. That was so much fun, man.”
And then, the ultimate compliment arrives: Weird Al wants to parody “Jeopardy”.
“Well, Weird Al was a friend of mine,” said Kihn, “and he called me up out of the clear blue sky one day and he said, ‘I want to do a Jeopardy parody.’ I was really flattered because you know, you don’t get parodied unless you’re pretty well known, and he just happens to have a great idea for the song ‘I Lost on Jeopardy’. He was so brilliant when I spoke to him over the phone, then he said, ‘Hey by the way, do you want to come down to L.A. and make a cameo on the video?’ I thought, ‘Why not? That sounds like fun.’ And he said, ‘Could you drive down that green MG?’ But the MG was really not in good shape. It was pretty beat up. So they rented me an Alfa Romeo Spider. Not exactly an MG but it was the right color, it was green. So I’m in the end of the video. They throw Weird Al out the back of the TV studio after he loses on Jeopardy, he lands right in the back of the Alfa Romeo and then I take off. That was a lot of fun. And the girl in the car with me is pretty famous. I can’t tell you her name but we just drove off. The girl in the car with me would shortly become a major rock star in an all-girls L.A. band (which I can’t tell you) but we had a fun time driving around the block for the shoot. On the last take, I just kept going and drove off into the sunset. It took them hours to find us at my suite at the Sunset Marquis Hotel.”
Kihn said their videos were creative, but it was also a right-place right-time situation.
“I’ll say this, it was probably karma and a couple other things working but ‘Jeopardy’ came along just the right time. MTV was exploding. All the other videos that we’re on TV were these kind of like fake-live videos. We were one of the only concept videos on MTV. If you did have something more than just a performance clip for people to look at, you’d notice things on the second viewing and go, ‘Oh, I never noticed that thing.’ It was a lot of fun trying to stay a step ahead of everybody.”
Check out Greg Kihn all over the internet, and pick up his new book Painted Black.