They were the Ramones’ first fans, and 40 years later, they’re still in the pit. Since their first date at CBGB in 1976, Dennis Anderson and Lois Kahlert have been rock’s boldest, most tireless superfans — and they have their own film to prove it.
Thursday (Nov. 15) marks the premiere of Dennis and Lois, a Chris Cassidy-helmed documentary about the septuagenarian couple, who have been following indie and punk acts on the road for more than four decades. The film digs into the couple’s history of music fandom with appearances from Noel Gallagher, Peter Hook, The Mekons’ Jon Langford and more.
Dennis and Lois started out as the Ramones’ merch-slingers and tour followers, but soon forged a deeper, more parental relationship with the band. In a scene in Dennis and Lois, we see the late Joey’s tattered jeans slung on their bathroom door; among many other roles, Lois was their unofficial seamstress.
As it turns out, being tight enough with the Ramones will get a bunch of fledgling punks talking. From there, Dennis and Lois would forge lasting bonds with everyone from El Vez to Primal Scream, from the Mekons to Happy Mondays.
Where most longtime rock fans would ease up with age, Dennis and Lois have doubled down. They have no children. They never married. When they aren’t at their Long Island home — which is filled with enough offbeat toys, garments and memorabilia to rival a pop culture museum — they’re on the road to the next gig. Even as aging and health issues have entered the picture, their road-warrior spirit hasn’t flagged; these days, they follow modern-day rockers like Cabbage and Fat White Family with equal zeal.
Their beloved Happy Mondays even immortalized them forever in song; their classic 1990 album Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches features a tune called “Dennis and Lois.” Cassidy, a hardcore Mondays fan in his early ‘90s college years, was listening.
The subjects of the tune were a mystery to Cassidy: who are Dennis and Lois? Eventually, a mutual friend, P.J. O’Connor from the Bogmen, would introduce them in person at a show in 2010. For Cassidy, it was the beginning of a journey that led straight into Dennis and Lois’s inner lives.
Ahead of the official premiere of Dennis and Lois at New York City’s IFC Center, Billboard caught up with Cassidy about how he weaved a new history of punk, one from the perspective of its two most ardent fans.
Can you describe how you befriended Dennis and Lois, and how that planted the seeds for the film? What was involved in bringing you into their inner world?
I had heard their name before, from the Happy Mondays song. I was a big Happy Mondays fan in the early ‘90s. I had always known there was a song called “Dennis and Lois,” and I always wondered who these people were. My musician buddy, P.J. O’Connor from the Bogmen, introduced me to them, and I said to them, “Are you the Dennis and Lois?” And they said “Yes.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m a huge Mondays fan. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
And we just started talking, and I started to hear their stories. I went back home and thought, “Wow, this would probably make a really interesting documentary,” just based on all the stories. All the bands that they follow are bands that I love. I’ve had a lot of unanswered questions over the years about who Dennis and Lois were. To me, it was a dream come true to do this project with them.
All major rock acts have had their devotees and superfans, but not necessarily to the end of making a documentary about them. What separates Dennis and Lois from the rest, and what inspired you to tackle this huge undertaking to tell their story?
There are a couple of things. For one, I think it’s their longevity. They’ve been doing it for 40 years. They’re dedicated to doing what they love for that length of time. That’s really impressive. To still do it when you’re in your seventies, I don’t see many people doing that. If you look around a show, you don’t really see anybody their age. And if you do, it’s kind of cool. It’s like, “Wow, these guys get it.” It’s definitely a young man’s game, right? The concert world, going to shows? So, to see these people who are your grandparents’ age, it’s impressive.
So, I was totally impressed with their track record, really, because 40 years of doing it is a long time. It’s a lifetime commitment.
After watching the documentary, I’d wager they took it a step further than most other “aging punks.” They had a genuine relationship with these bands in which they developed mutual trust.
They know exactly how to fit in with these people, what to say, what to do. They’re not the typical superfans. One other really important thing is their cred, I guess you could call it? They met at a time in music that was this golden period of punk. They met at CBGB’s when the Ramones were just starting out. The fact that they were linked to and worked with the Ramones meant that they were instantly in history, you know what I mean?
They were there from the start. They probably saw the first couple of gigs. And then they wound up connecting with them personally, selling their merch, going on tour, and that really started them off. The fact that they were there and witnessed that whole scene was really impressive. And it impressed a lot of bands that they’d met after. Everyone seemed to be wowed by the fact that they were in the Ramones’ inner circle. It’s instant credibility.
Is that how their circle of admirers grew to include the Mekons, Noel Gallagher, Peter Hook and so many others?
I’d say that they were all influenced by the Ramones, so they all took it very seriously. I’m sure they wanted to hear many stories. It legitimized them. They were instantly welcomed, liked and credible. Not wacky and fanatical. People get along with them. They’re super cool people. They have a way of connecting with these artists that most fans don’t. They’re not like the young fan who might be in awe of these artists. They can dig right in and be on their level.
It’s a special group of bands that Dennis and Lois have embraced. They share this one thing in common, which is this relationship with these two people. Which has been a long time, in most cases. For some of these acts, they’ve been following them since the beginning. I mean, Peter Hook talks about it. He said, “When you get famous, you don’t know if people are trying to get something from you or not. These are the people who will always be there for you.”
And this isn’t in the film, but I always loved this. Dennis told me once that Patti Smith never hired security at her shows in the early days. She always had her fans up front, because she believed her fans will protect her the most. So, there’s a trust there, yeah. “Trust” is probably the keyword to take away from that.
Let’s talk about their memorabilia collection they have at home. According to their profile in The New York Times, they’ve got everything from a wine glass stained with Joni Mitchell’s lipstick to a tissue Joe Strummer blew his nose in. What possesses them to take collecting to this extreme?
Well, as we know, their collecting is obsessive, right? They’ve got Mark Day’s wedding cake in their freezer for 30+ years. And they save peoples’ clothes and water bottles and beer bottles and snot towels and stuff like that. They’re just true collectors.
This goes many, many steps beyond just picking up the T-shirt at the merch booth.
Way beyond. Their house is almost like a museum.
Would you say there’s no limit to what they’ll preserve from an artist?
No. They have Cheetos bags from the Vaccines that they ate from. They save discarded wrappers. They’re just into collecting things! Their toy collection is probably one of the better ones out there. But it’s all for them. I’ve asked them plenty of times, “Why don’t we show this stuff out? You guys should have a booth at Comic-Con with the toys. Grab the best of your best!” Or you’ll see collections in airports of things. They could certainly tour some of this stuff, which would be fun, but they’re kind of not interested. It’s really for them.
And they rotate their stuff, so they’re looking at different things. It might seem kind of crazy, but there is a little bit of a method there. There are different themed rooms. Batman rooms, Spider-Man rooms, Simpsons rooms, the SpongeBob bathroom, Star Wars basement, Freddie Krueger’s by the furnace. And their kitchen cabinets are dioramas, so you open up where you’d see food…
So, there’s a level of curation there. It’s just for their enjoyment only.
It’s carefully done. They go to England, and they have to buy suitcases over there to bring back the toys. As far as the [more intimate] memorabilia goes, I think it’s just part of the collecting thing that they do.
As the film winds down, you focus on some of the health concerns that have slowed them down a little bit recently. Is an end of the road foreseeable for their diehard concert and collecting regimen?
I think they don’t see an end. It doesn’t seem like anything’s really going to stop them. They’re going to do this as long as they can. As long as they can get to that show and get what they get out of that.
Do they still attend as many shows as ever?
Yeah. They’ll get in the car and drive overnight from New York to Chicago. They’ve been doing that a lot lately, because Jon Langford and Sally Timms are in Chicago. They’re true road warriors. They’ll just drive, and drive, and drive.
Just think about all the kids who were right with them at those CBGB’s shows decades ago. Most of them are probably marketing consultants now, but Dennis and Lois are still 100% committed to this lifestyle.
I’ve asked them about sacrifices. They don’t feel they’ve made any. They’ve never had kids; that doesn’t seem to bother them. They never got married. Careers didn’t really seem to be that important to them. Lois worked at a place for a long time, but it all took a backseat to the music. It’s really, truly their one passion in life. I don’t think they ever wanted to abandon that.
It seems like the message of the film is just to spend your life doing what makes you happy and fulfilled.
That’s right, exactly. And at this point, they’re not going to stop, because it’s the thing that’s kind of keeping them going, too. You know how people retire, and they just don’t seem to have a purpose anymore? We’ve heard stories of relatives at home, just kind of doing chores, mowing the lawn, watching TV. They’re not interested in stopping. They’re going to do this forever.