Running a quick Google search on British producer Joe Meek (1929-1967), you can find a variety of articles describing his sound as ‘pioneering,’ ‘revolutionary’ and ‘original.’ But with the praise of Meek’s musical creations during the late 1950s and early 1960s, there is also the looming depiction of Meek’s personal life as dark, strange and obsessive.
While a few documentaries on Meek’s short life exist, notably a 1991 BBC program, US filmmaker Howard Berger of Palmdoor Films said the portrayal of Meek in these films is sensationalized. So, with the help of his partner Susan Stahman, Berger wanted to create a documentary that chronicled Meek’s troubled life in a more honest way.
“It’s a strange story of Joe Meek,” Berger said. “The way he did something fascinated us. There’s no way you can equate Joe Meek to any other producer.”
The documentary, A Life in the Death of Joe Meek, has been in production for the past nine years. Staying true to Meek’s ‘do it yourself’ attitude, Berger and Stahman have funded the entire project on their own. The project has led them to all corners of the United States and Great Britain to film and interview musicians, producers, friends and family members to help portray what Meek was really like.
Meek’s best-known production was The Tornados’ “Telsar”
Joe Meek is best known for his 1962 hit, “Telstar,” which he produced for the Tornadoes. He was the first independent record producer in the United Kingdom after he broke from the commercial studios to establish his own home studio, Triumph Records, in 1960.
“(The music industry) had a protocol in the market and they didn’t want people to stray,” Berger said. “Joe disagreed with those stands of production and ultimately he had to go out on his own.”
Meek would eventually work with musicians including Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds), Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) and Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow).
Berger also said Meek was a difficult person for other producers to work with, and was disliked by many. He said Meek might have suffered from bipolar disorder, but was never officially diagnosed. Meek was also gay, which at the time was socially unacceptable in the United Kingdom, causing Meek a lot of personal turmoil, Berger said.
In 1967, Meek shot and killed his landlady before shooting himself, ending his short life.
“Joe’s end came at a tragic moment,” Berger commented. “There’s a lot of mystery to this conclusion. He killed himself at 37, which is really a horribly young age to stop working. The sad thing is that two people died and no matter how the story goes, it’s still a sad way to go.”
When Berger and Stahman started their project in 2003, Berger said their understanding of Meek was only based on the BBC documentary. But after talking with sources, Berger said his perception of Meek changed, and he and Stahman decided to portray Meek in the film through people’s dialogue, without using a narrator.
“We would rather talk to people and get impressions of Meek as they knew him,” Berger said. “The more we found out about him, the more we were able to clarify. This isn’t a fluff piece; we’re not trying to show that this guy is better than anyone else.”
But after nine years of traveling, filming and editing, the funding for the project has run short, and Berger and Stahman are now asking for help through the website Kickstarter.com.
“This will allow us to finish the film the way we want to,” said Berger. He said the goal is to raise $40,000 through Kickstarter.com by Tuesday, October 16, 2012. Those interested in donating can pledge a certain amount, but Berger said unless they reach their goal by that date, they will not get any of the money.
“If you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get anything. We need as much money as possible, because if we don’t get the funding, we’re not going to get the project done this year,” he said.
Berger said he and Stahman have held work in progress screenings, which has sparked a large amount of support, but the team still needs more help to finish the project.
“We’re hoping to accomplish our goal through aggressive word of mouth,” Berger said.
To make a donation or find out more about the A Life in the Death of Joe Meek, visit the project’s Kickstarter Website at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joemeek/a-life-in-the-death-of-joe-meek?ref=live.