Greenport guitar legend stars in documentary

12/08/2012 8:00 AM |

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Harry Biechele (left) and filmmaker Jim Morrison talk about Mr. Morrison’s film ‘Harry Hellfire’ at Aldo’s in Greenport.

His name is Harry and he’s still here, after decades of hardships ranging from schoolyard beatings to the death of a father, substance abuse and the lack of a place to call home.

That’s Harry Biechele, a 42-year-old Greenport native, avid heavy metal musician and the subject of “Harry Hellfire,” a brand-new documentary that debuted Sunday during the fifth annual Hamptons Take Two film festival. The festival included other films with North Fork roots, such as “Long May You Shine,” about the restoration of Greenport’s Bug Lighthouse.

It could be said that if Mr. Biechele were a lighthouse, he’d be the one whose light refused to be doused despite years of storms.

“I changed the face of music in Greenport as we know it,” Mr. Biechele said of his influence on heavy metal’s growth in Greenport during the 1980s, when he played guitar with his band, Tezex.

COURTESY PHOTO | A young Harry Biechele during a practice session with his band.

The film tells the story of Mr. Biechele’s development as a musician; his struggles, including a six-month stint living out of a tent in a local cemetery where he said he was robbed of his possessions; and his relationship with filmmaker Jim Morrison. The film includes on-camera narration by Mr. Morrison, who said that, as a close friend of the subject, he tried to keep himself out of the film as much as possible.

“This is a film I always felt should be made,” Mr. Morrison said of the documentary, which includes decades-old photographs and footage he shot through Mr. Biechele’s teenage years and development as a guitarist.

“I was always there with the camera and it has always been in the back of my head that I was going to do something on him,” Mr. Morrison said. “I went to film school at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and, as a means of getting back into filmmaking, I bought a professional-grade camera and decided to reconnect with Harry to document whatever. I didn’t know where it was headed,” he said.

For six years, Mr. Morrison followed Mr. Biechele’s life journey through musical passion and frustration, pain, loss, drugs, alcohol and chocolate.

“I’ve definitely cleaned up and being allergic to just about everything on the planet helped,” Mr. Biechele said. “I’m especially allergic to chocolate. After Halloween, I broke out all over the place.”

The Harry Hellfire persona isn’t the type to allow his age to prevent him from going trick-or-treating.

COURTESY PHOTO | Mr. Biechele during his stage debut at a 1987 Greenport High School talent show.

“I take my light saber, put on crazy-ass make-up, my cloak and robe and go out and scare the crap out of kids,” he said. “I love doing it. It’s not even a matter of the candy, it’s about going out and having fun. I went down three streets and got more candy than the kids did.”

Local reaction to Mr. Biechele is also documented in “Harry Hellfire,” with one woman describing him as not just the “class clown” type, but another species altogether.

Mr. Morrison said Mr. Biechele’s talent, not his quirks, are what set him apart.

“He’s a talented guitar player and everybody around here saw him as being on a different level of playing,” the filmmaker said. “It’s different in the music industry now because it’s like ‘here today, gone today,’ but we all thought there was something special about him.”

The two men’s long-standing friendship, Mr. Morrison said, made the filmmaking process difficult and confusing at times, especially after Mr. Biechele had been drinking.

“There was a lot of him showing up at my door at 10 at night while the kids were doing their homework and shouting, ‘It’s my birthday!’ ” he said. “There were a lot of mixed feelings. I was angry at him for showing up, but at the same time I felt guilty. I wondered, ‘I’m documenting his life. Should I really feel invaded?’ ”

On the flip side, Mr. Morrison said he tried to stay sensitive to his subject’s privacy throughout the process and make sure Mr. Biechele was on board at all times.

“There were some situations where I didn’t want to roll camera,” he said, adding that just locating the homeless Mr. Biechele could sometimes be a challenge when attempting to meet up with him.

“I don’t want it to seem like I’m saying that I’m the good guy here,” Mr. Morrison said. “I’m doing OK in life. I’ve got a wife, kids, house and all that and this guy kind of has the opposite, so I almost feel guilty, you know? I want him to have that, too.”

Mr. Biechele, who helped raise his ex-girlfriend’s children as well as nieces and nephews, said he feels he’s already had those domestic experiences. What he’s most focused on, he said, is getting back on stage with his guitar after the recent death of Brock Ruther, a bassist and his closest friend.

“To this day, I can’t stop crying about it because we had so much to look forward to,” he said. “I told him, ‘I’ll take you places, just stick with me.’ We were going to call the [new] band Biechele, but then we said, why don’t we name it Harry Hellfire?”

The band wrote only one song, which Mr. Biechele said he finished after Mr. Ruther’s death.

“I have to play the whole song for his mother on the year anniversary of his death,” he said. “And I’m going to do it.”

He said he’s just itching to get back on stage and to be given the chance to professionally record some 40 new tracks he’s written. First, he said, he’ll need a band.

“I don’t know how many years it’s been since I’ve been on stage, but I can do riffs more intricately than I could 10 or 20 years ago when I was just belting it out raw,” he said. “When you’re on stage and all of your friends and even enemies are just in awe, watching you play — that’s the best feeling in the world.”

For more information about the film visit harryhellfire.com.

gvolpe@timesreview.com

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